Cuba-U.S. Close Cold War, What It Means For Latin America
The decision by the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties looks like good news for now: for Cuban families, for regional democracy and for peace in war-torn Colombia.
BOGOTA — The surprise announcement Wednesday by U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on beginning a process to end the embargo on Cuba and renew diplomatic ties after 55 years of tensions is, simply put, excellent news.
We welcome the accord for its significance for the Americas, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall for Europe. The Summit of the Americas in Panama, scheduled for April 2015, could provide the defining moment of an official meeting between the two heads of state.
As a statesman, Obama is driven by a sense of political and economic realism that proved stronger than the pressures of Republicans and foreign-policy conservatives in his country.
For years people have said the embargo and the political and economic sanctions imposed on Cuba were not producing the hoped-for results — namely to bring the Cuban regime to its knees.
The same praise for courageous pragmatism should also go to Raúl Castro, who is taking a historic step in keeping with the economic liberalization he began after taking over the presidency from his brother Fidel. The so-called "Interests Sections" that both states have maintained in their respective capitals have served as de-facto embassies, so this diplomatic breakthrough does not mean starting from scratch, but building on and utilizing existing ties and infrastructures.
Reverberations in Caracas and Bogota
The consequences are considerable. The decision means not just gradually reducing — and we hope, ending — prevailing tensions between the two nations, but also allowing for the reunification of so many families separated for decades. There are also anticipated improvements to the economic situation and general lack of freedom on the island nation, and perhaps even a change of regime in Cuba.
Sure, it's been years since witnessing regular scenes of people drowning as their makeshift boats sank in waters off Florida. But renewed diplomatic ties with Washington could also mean more political transparency in Cuba and better monitoring of its moves to suppress citizens' liberties.
For the region, the consequences will likely involve a revision on Cuba's part of its ties with the so-called Bolivarian alliance or ALBA, most notably with Venezuela. The anti-imperialist discourse certain states, starting with leaders in Caracas, use to blame their problems on others will no longer serve as an excuse or cover for their economic failures. Without overlooking some of communism's social propositions and solutions, reality has shown that its various formulae have failed and can only be maintained through dictatorship. Like North Korea, the last Stalinist regime was waiting to be cleared away.
For Colombia, the development also boosts President Juan Manuel Santos's risky decision to pick Cuba both as the setting of peace talks with FARC leftist guerrillas, and as the key actor and facilitator of that process. Cuba and Venezuela have both helped the FARC see reason and come to their senses, quite a while after being left behind by the train of history. Our country should now act decisively and work with Cuba in this immediate opening phase.
An outstanding task remains: Cuba's gradual transition toward becoming a working democracy, with independent elections, separation of powers, liberation of political prisoners and free media — among other things. If Cuba wishes to join the brotherhood of Western democracies, it must show its desire for change. We hope it will, sooner rather than later.