Good Job Everybody: Cuba Edition

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the United States will begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. This is a significant foreign policy shift away from more than 50 years of isolation.

Here is a run-down of what will change, as published by The Globe and Mail:

– “the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital, Havana

– the U.S. will ease travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities, but will not lift its ban on tourist travel

– licensed American travellers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined

– the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans will increase from $500 to $2,000 every three months

– the U.S. will unfreeze the U.S. bank accounts of Cubans who no longer live in Cuba

– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror”

I am not an expert on American-Cuban relations but my pro-diplomacy bias has me thinking that normalized relations are a good thing. There has been a distinct Cold War vibe to Cuban-American relations that feels awfully outdated and I disagree with pundits (ahem, Charles Krauthhammer) who suggest that talking to adversary states is tantamount to capitulation in the face of tyranny. It’s not clear if the embargo will be lifted (the President cannot do so without Congress) and the positive or negative effects of this thawing of relations remain to be seen. However, I think an experiment with rapprochement is worthwhile and long overdue.

How did this all happen? As it turns out, the United States and Cuba have been engaging in secret talks for the past 18 months – in Canada! In June 2013, delegations from both countries traveled to Canada for discussions and met seven more times in Toronto and Ottawa, according to The Globe and Mail reporting. Canada played the role of host rather than mediator but the importance of relatively neutral ground during tough negotiations shouldn’t be underestimated so I think we can give ourselves a little pat on the back here. Apparently Pope Francis and The Vatican also helped spur the reconciliation. It’s not clear to me how much of a role The Vatican played in the actual mediation, but the Pope did personally appeal to both Obama and Castro so he gets a pat on the back as well.

We can only wait and see if the consequences of this policy shift are positive but it sure seems like a small victory for progress. So good job everybody – here’s to the next 50 years of Cuban-American relations which, if nothing else, should be interesting.