The recent announcement that the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism gives the impression of a slow and inevitable march towards a full restoration of Washington-Havana relations. No formal objections were presented during the 45 days between the moment the Obama Administration said that they would consider this action and last Friday.
But let’s not fool ourselves; the fact that no obstacles were put in place to eliminate this remnant of the Cold War does not mean that the road is clear for the normalization of the relations.
The global face-off between the U.S. and the Soviet Union spilled into Latin America during the 60s, 70 and 80s. Washington backed the military dictatorships that ousted democratic governments, and Cuba helped out the USSR by sending guerrilla soldiers to various countries. The southern continent was part of a geopolitical chess match between the two superpowers.
The collapse of the Soviet regime eventually made obsolete the role of Cuba as a revolution exporter. Still, the political strength of Cuban exiles seemed to make impossible the country’s deletion from the list of terrorist states.
Today, the vices of this group’s influence – for instance, they want to maintain the Cuban embargo – sour the benefits that come from taking Cuba off the list. Although the sanctions still in place slow down the process, the removal allows the U.S. to offer financial assistance to Cuba, does not require the U.S. to oppose foreign loans made by the country, and creates a better environment for foreign investment on the island.
Many differences remain to be worked out in the negotiations between these two countries. However, President Obama has said that he wants to be the one to mend the relationship with Cuba. This statement has been enough to make the Republican Congress block almost everything the President has proposed. Several Republican senators have already promised to block the confirmation of any nominee for the position of ambassador to Cuba.
The road from the White House to Cuba will not be easy. The fact that the initiative seems to be advancing without problems – as in this removal from the terrorist states list – means that the battles to oppose a reestablishment of relations with the Castros’ government – whether because of human rights issues or just to contradict Obama – have already been picked.