By: Charles Short
As Russia ramps up efforts to plunge back into the Cold War with the United States following reports that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails, diplomatic ties with another former Cold War adversary has begun the thawing process. This past December marked the two-year anniversary since President Obama announced a plan to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Shortly after announcing the plans, the two countries agreed to a prisoner swap that was brokered by Pope Francis. Then in March of 2016, President Obama and his family visited the island nation and delivered a keynote address that called for Congress to lift the embargo but also spoke directly to President Raul Castro and called for better human rights and access to information for the Cuban people.
It is unlikely that the Helms-Burton Act, the legislation that made the embargo official, will be repealed any time soon with University of Miami School of Law Alum Marco Rubio taking the loudest stand against President Obama’s plan to restore relations with Cuba. However in August 2016 commercial flights and more relaxed restrictions on U.S. businesses in Cuba have taken hold. For example, now there are 110 flights leaving the U.S. for Cuba each day. Additionally, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises have begun cruise operations to the island nation situated only 90 miles of the coast of the Florida Keys. Part of the relaxed restrictions set in place by President Obama are the amount of remittances allowed to be sent from the United States into Cuba, to the tune of $1.5 billion in 2015.
Since Raul Castro has taken control of the government in Cuba from his brother, the despotic dictator Fidel Castro, the country has undergone some reform. For example, allowing greater access to consumer goods and less restrictions on travelling abroad. Additionally, under Raul Castro’s leadership the amount of self-employed workers has tripled creating a larger market-share for privately-run businesses. It is in the spirit of these hollow reforms that President Obama seeks to widen by creating closer ties with the two countries; hoping that greater American influence will cause greater reform.
The first legal export from Cuba to the U.S. is set to arrive January 18, 2017. An American company ran by the attorney of Alan Gross, a former American imprisoned in Cuba, will export artisanal charcoal from a cooperative in Cuba ran by private farmers. While this is good news that the restoration of ties between the two countries has led to some progress, the news is not as positive as proponents of the restoration would like. In fact, it seems that the loosening of restrictions on Cuba has not had the immediate positive results expected by critics of the plan. The year 2016 did not end well with projections that the island nation’s economy would grow less than one percent. Additionally one of President Obama’s main focuses, human rights, did not appear to be immediately affected by restoring a relationship with Cuba given that the autocratic government in Cuba reportedly made over 9,000 politically motivated arrests in the first 11 months of 2016. But it must be noted that change as ambitious as scaling back a communist stranglehold does not happen within 2 years.
Despite the loud opposition felt throughout Miami’s Cuban-American population after the announcement of the President’s plan to normalize relations, polls suggest that there is National support to both normalize relations with Cuba and lift the embargo. After all, the past 55 years of ostracizing the oppressed country has made little progress in breaking the communist government’s steely reserve.
No matter the results of National polls, the future of U.S.-Cuba relations is uncertain after the President-elect threatened to terminate the deal President Obama made with Cuba. In his signature way of expressing himself in a 140 characters or less the President-elect threatened to roll back the regulations set in place by President Obama if he is unable to get a better deal for the “Cuban/American people.” With some of the staunchest opponents to the restored U.S./Cuba relations in his party, the President-elect certainly has the supporters to terminate President Obama’s regulations regarding the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba.