Obama restarts ties with Cuba ending 55 years of enmity

US administration formally reopens American embassy in Cuba, enabling restoration of more than half century of severed diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The US President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that the US and Cuba had agreed to reciprocally reopen embassies in a historical step towards normalisation of diplomatic ties that were cut almost 55 years ago.

“More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana.  Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries,” Obama said in his White House statement.

“This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.” the US President added.

The US and Cuba had announced last December the start of process of normalising their diplomatic ties which were cut in the wake of 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Soon after the Revolution, the US had attacked Cuba through the invasion of Bay of Pigs in 1961 at a time when tensions reached its peak and led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The missile crisis further deteriorated not only the US-Cuba relations, but also led to the acceleration of ideological and military rivalries between the US and the former Soviet Union throughout the Cold War.

Since then, Cuba has been isolated by the US until President Barack Obama declared on Dec. 17, 2014 that the parties had decided to decrease tension and revitalise the ties.

"A year ago it might have seemed impossible that the United States would be once again raising our flag, the Stars and Stripes, over an embassy in Havana." Obama said referencing  the difficulties of normalisation process with Cuba.   

The US President further pledged that Washington would continue to work to diminish points of disagreements with Cuba, a communist rule that has been accused for its poor human rights records, sponsoring terrorism and violations of freedom of expression for decades by the US administrations.

"We will also continue to have some very serious differences," Obama said. "That will include America’s enduring support for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values."

Obama had approved Cuba’s removal from the list of terror-sponsoring states soon after he met with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro at the Summit of Americas in Panama in April which irreversibly clinched the rapprochement of former antagonists.

Meanwhile, the Cuban President Raul Castro also confirmed the inauguration of reestablishing the diplomatic ties when he sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday, saying that Cuba would open permanent diplomatic missions in the respective countries on July 20.

The restoration process in the US-Cuban relations still have some lingering problems, including Cuba’s human rights record and long-standing US embargo that can only be lifted by the Congress which the Republicans dominate and put their reserves on the normalisation efforts with Havana.

But US officials see there was little possibility that the anti-Castro hardliners among US congressmen would be able to block such a rapprochement with Cuba.  

“Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward. I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same," Obama said when he urged the Congress to heed efforts and feelings when it considers to lift embargoes and sanctions over Cuba.

The parties have been maintaining negotiations on some US demands, such as relative freedom of movement for US diplomats on the island and the question of how many shipping containers will be allowed into Havana for renovating the US mission there.

The US expects Havana leadership to allow its missions and activities in the country, comparable to that in Russia and Vietnam, but the Cuban side has objected some American training activities, most notably in areas like journalism and information technology, given at the US interests section in Havana.

However, Castro also demanded in his letter to Obama to stop the US radio and TV broadcasts into the country by ending "subversive" programs inside Havana as well as returning the US military base in Guantanamo back to Cuba.

Castro’s statement indicated the necessity of maintenance of restored ties and urged the US administration to show more enthusiasm to unlock Cuba’s long-lasting isolation due to American embargoes.

TRTWorld and agencies