After more than half a century of hostility, the United States and Cuba are taking the steps towards normalizing relations.
These two historic enemies are finally on speaking terms again.
This is a truly momentous occasion, and a sign that America is finally ready to relinquish an outdated and ineffective policy.
President Obama announced the deal on Wednesday, which a number of players were involved in, including Pope Francis.
"Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future." —President Obama #CubaPolicy — The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2014
"We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests" —President Obama #CubaPolicy — The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2014
.@Pontifex expresses his support for today's #CubaPolicy announcement by President Obama: http://t.co/wIgkkJeTsf pic.twitter.com/Nk559Nn8tm — The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2014
America and Cuba have had troubled relations since 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power after ousting President Fulgencio Batista. Almost immediately, he nationalized US-owned properties, formed trade deals with the Soviet Union (USSR) and increased taxes on American imports.
This was at the height of the Cold War, when the USSR was America's greatest enemy and communism was viewed as inherently evil.
Needless to say, Castro put an immediate strain on US-Cuban relations. Consequently, this led President John F. Kennedy to place a full economic embargo on Cuba while also enacting strict travel restrictions.
In 1961, the United States completely cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba. The Bay of Pigs disaster (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) only exacerbated the animosity between the two nations.
Indeed, the United States and Cuba have not had any formal ties since the 1960s.
Cuba is a mere 90 miles away from Florida, but Cold War tensions led the United States to enact policies aimed at isolating it completely.
At long last, the US government has conceded that none of these have worked, and that it's time for a new approach.
US Policy Toward Cuba Has Failed For Decades, It's Time For A Change
The US embargo on Cuba was aimed at suffocating the Castro regime into total and utter collapse. It's been over 50 years, and it has failed.
Communism lives on in Cuba, and Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother, is still in power.
America's policy has only succeeded in increasing the suffering of the Cuban people. It has deprived them of low-cost food and other vital goods that could be purchased from America for reasonable prices. Not to mention, the Cuban economy could greatly benefit from American tourism, but due to travel restrictions, this hasn't been possible.
Cuba is an impoverished country. This is primarily due to the fact that communism doesn't exactly promote economic growth. Yet, at the same time, the embargo has allowed the oppressive Castro regime to blame America for Cuba's poverty and problems. Instead of owning up to its own malevolence, it's blamed the United States for how undeveloped Cuba is.
Ending the embargo would expose the Castro regime for what it really is: ineffectual, anachronistic and repressive.
Not surprisingly, the United Nations, among others, has habitually called for the United States to end the embargo for the sake of common Cubans.
Finally, the United States is heeding this call and taking the steps toward reestablishing ties with one of its closest neighbors.
"It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse." —President Obama #CubaPolicy — White House Live (@WHLive) December 17, 2014
The American people largely support President Obama in this decision. A majority of Americans (56 percent) have exhibited a desire to normalize relations with Cuba.
Even in Florida, where a significant population of anti-Castro Cuban exiles reside, there is support for renewed diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States. This is particularly evident amongst young Cuban-Americans.
A recent study from Florida International University revealed that 90 percent of Cuban-American Millennials support diplomatic relations with Cuba. Overall, FIU found that 68 percent of Cuban-Americans support diplomatic relations with Cuba.
With the people behind it, this is the perfect time for change.
How The US And Cuba Reached Such An Historic Deal
The broad agreement reached between the US and Cuba on Wednesday, December 17, has a number of stipulations.
Firstly, the US has agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba. This means that the US will reopen an embassy in Havana that has been closed for over 50 years.
"I have instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations" —Obama #CubaPolicy — The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2014
Likewise, while the embargo is still in place, Obama has pledged to engage Congress about it, and there will no longer be a total travel ban either.
The United States will also release several alleged Cuban spies. Moreover, business, travel and banking restrictions will be eased. It will not only be easier for Americans to travel and do business in Cuba, but they will also be able to use their credit and debit cards whilst there.
This might be your favorite part: Cuban cigars and alcohol can now be imported on a small-scale along with other goods (up to $100 worth of tobacco/alcohol).
"To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship." —President Obama: http://t.co/ZeORP4H0jr #CubaPolicy pic.twitter.com/aUYC1VcBlb — The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 17, 2014
Cuba's status as a "state sponsor of terrorism" will also be reviewed.
Concurrently, Cuba agreed to release Alan Gross, an American contractor imprisoned in the country for the past five years. He is already back in the United States.
Cuba has also agreed to release 53 political prisoners from a list that the US provided.
Perhaps most importantly, the deal also requires Cuba to allow increased Internet access. Many believe this will help increase the type of communication necessary for a more free and open Cuba.
Lastly, Cuba will allow officials from the United Nations and the International Red Cross back into the country.
This is a huge deal, and an immense change from the way things have been for decades.
Cuba Has An Appalling Human Rights Record, This Cannot Be Ignored
Not everyone is happy about these developments, and that's perfectly understandable. Cuba's human rights record is abhorrent, and this cannot be ignored.
At the same time, the United States is hardly in a place to refuse to speak to a nation on this basis. After all, it has ties with a number of countries with terrible human rights records, including Vietnam, China, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Not to mention, the torture report that was released last week reveals that America is also guilty of disregarding human rights. This is hardly the time for the United States to take the moral high ground.
Simply put, US policy towards Cuba has persisted because of an outdated mentality as well as anti-Castro sentiment in Congress.
America is not supporting the Castro regime with this new deal, it's simply offering a hand to the Cuban people.
The embargo is a product of a bygone era where two superpowers came to brink of nuclear war, it has no place in the 21st century. The steps America is now taking are aimed at helping Cuba develop and move forward in the world.