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U.S.-Cuba relations: What should we expect next?

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

07-06-2015 14:22 BJT

By Sun Chenghao, assistant research fellow, Institute of American Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

U.S. President Barack Obama announced on July 1 that Cuba and the United States plan to reopen embassies in each other. Last December, Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro's speeches had kicked off the normalization of bilateral ties.

This April, the two leaders met at the Summit of Americas. Later in May, the U.S. dropped Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorists. The two countries held four rounds of normalization talks and the U.S. sent several high-level delegations to Cuba.

Obama is pushing forward on the thaw of U.S.-Cuba relationship. Before enetering the White House in 2009, he penned an article, "Our main goal: Freedom in Cuba" published in the Miami Herald, arguing that "if a post-Fidel government begins to open Cuba up to democratic change, the US is prepared to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades."

Soon afterwards, President Obama has moved ahead on a so-called transformational foreign policy, which advocates engagement with "hostile countries". In March 2009, he signed a Senate appropriations bill that made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives in Cuba and paved the way for more business travelers to visit the island.

Yet the clock is ticking before Obama leaves the White House. When the new president assumes power in 2017 and if the president is a member of the Republican Party, then normalization of relations between the two countries may likely come to a halt.

Most Republican presidential candidates have denounced the Obama administration's agreements with Cuba. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, criticized Obama for making too many concessions and supporting an agreement that was "outrageous and counterproductive". Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker expressed concerns that Obama hopes to open a US embassy in Iran as well.

Accordingly. Cuba should quicken its pace. Cuba's economic reforms have entered the "bottleneck" phase and in urgent need of more foreign capital and expertise. Its economic growth rate in 2013 was 2.7%, lower than government's anticipated growth rate of 3.6%. The Cuban economy is expected to slow down even further in 2014. Cuba's reforms have yet to translate into real sustainable economic growth.

The U.S. with its huge amount of capital and technologic strength, could become a major capital exporter and trading partner for Cuba. Improving relations with the U.S. has been a long-held wish for the elder generation of Cuba's revolutionaries. Upon taking office in 2013, Raúl disclosed that he would resign after 2018. The new generation of Cuban leadership supports a smooth power transition.

Meanwhile there are still deep seated differences between both nations. The economic blockade that the U.S. imposes on Cuba stands as the biggest obstacle.  There multiple legislative acts that impose sanctions on Cuba, including the Helms-Burton Act, passed in Congress and signed by then President Bill Clinton in 1996, which strictly limits U.S. companies from trading with Cuba.

The act states that unless a transition towards free and fair elections are held in Cuba, the economic blockade would never be abolished. The Cuban government has long called for elimination of the blockade.

The Cuban foreign minister said that if the U.S. still imposes full-range economic, trade and financial sanctions, the Cuba-U.S. relationship will not be normalized. However, only Congress can change such legislation, but the Republican Party controls Congress and Republican U.S. Representatives support a continuation of such sanctions.

Congress can also deny funding for embassies and ambassador appointments. Republican senators and presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz support this strategy, unless Cuba lifts its restrictions on U.S. diplomats and promises more political freedoms.
Additionally, the Cuban government and its citizens remain suspicious of the U.S. The two countries haven't reached a consensus on immigration, human rights, free passage of diplomatic personnel, the issue of returning Guantánamo, and compensation of sanction loss, and hence the normalization process will be long and complicated. Cuba harbors doubts that the U.S. "approach is in good will" but an attempt to export western values or to seek regime change.

Nonetheless, the way forward is long, but the prospects still appear bright. As revealed in a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs during May 25-June 17, two in three Americans (67%) support the US ending the trade embargo with Cuba. This appearance of solid popular support from the American public could act as a major impetus to boost U.S.-Cuba relations.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.



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