Latin America, a wake-up call for Cuba
In the year that has passed since the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, what progress has been made?
The main advance this year has been the fluidity of relations now existing between the US and Cuba. Without movement there is no change, and for decades our policy towards Cuba was mired in a Cold War narrative. It was clear that the obsession of some of our congressmen with using confrontation and isolation, through the Helms-Burton Act, as a strategy to promote democracy, has only delayed its development, and done great damage to the Cuban people. The decision by Presidents Obama and Castro to resume diplomatic relations has fostered a much more dynamic environment, through which we can advance our interests so that opportunities arise, and one that helps to encourage all those in Cuban society who crave a better future for the Cuban people.
Over the last year, what has characterized the actions of the Cuban government: changes or resistance to change?
From the Cuban government we have seen a combination of small changes and paralysis when it comes to achieving more significant ones. We have witnessed a softening in his language towards the US, growth in the private sector, and increased access to Wi-Fi on the island. But most of the changes today seen in Cuba stem from how the people are interpreting and taking advantage of the limited opportunities afforded by the Government, rather than what its officials are actively promoting. The Government's actions continue to reflect, more than anything, the tensions between those who consider capitalist reforms a necessary evil to maintain control, and others who see markets as essential engines of growth to create a truly prosperous and sustainable state.
What measures beneficial to the people of the island have been implemented over the course of this year?
Several. The reopening of the US embassy has meant that our diplomats have broader freedom of movement in Cuba, able to deal more directly with the Cuban people. The regulatory changes announced by the Obama Administration in January and September have allowed a tidal wave of Americans to travel to Cuba and to support its civil society, particularly a growing sector of independent entrepreneurs, which has developed largely thanks to the elimination of limits on remittances.
Another measure that has benefited the Cuban people is the establishment of 50 public Wi-Fi access stations across the country, whose costs are still high, but still half of what Internet access cost earlier this year. All these developments are things that we simply would not have achieved under our old policy.
What can be expected in the short term from relations between Cuba and the USA?
We can expect the Obama Administration to take additional measures to facilitate the flow of resources and contacts between the US and the Cuban people, particularly to re-establish commercial flights for the first time in over half a century.
Also very likely is progress on migration and claims to property through bilateral meetings. We can also expect increased support in the US Congress for lifting the embargo, something which the Cuban government could help to bring about by taking steps that make it attractive to invest in Cuba, such as allowing foreign investment in private businesses and the direct hiring of Cuban workers.
At the same time, the current developments in Latin America serve as a wake-up call to Cubans, telling them that the time to take bold steps towards openness and development is now. They have a government in Washington willing to sit down at the table with their counterparts in Havana, unconditionally, and new governments in Venezuela and Argentina that are expected to intensify their pressure on Cuba to move towards openness. One can only hope that Cuban officials take advantage of these circumstances to promote a better outlook for their citizens, including the many young Cubans who continue to flee the island in search of the opportunities and protection that they still cannot find in their homeland.