Just last month, the two countries that had harbored feelings of hatred towards each other accomplished a milestone achievement when they decided to open embassies in each country. Citizens of each nation gladly accepted this new change and changes that were about to come, but they were too quick to stay happy, as subtler and intricate complications existed.
During the early 1950s, the decade soon after the Second World War, the world was divided into two spheres: capitalism and communism. Despite their nature as only economic ideas, they managed to pin countries against each other and instigate small and sometimes big skirmishes.
Fidel Castro was one of the biggest concerns of Dwight David Eisenhower and his successor John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 34th and 35th presidents of the United States (U.S.), as Castro posed the biggest threat to U.S. soil with his communism ideals and beliefs. Moreover, Castro took control of his country through such ideals, tallying up one more country to the list of communist countries in the American region. Eisenhower, a former high ranking military personnel, wanted to keep a keen eye on the man but delegated the job to Kennedy as his second term as president was coming to an end.
It was not until October 14, 1962, that the world reached a tipping point. Much to his surprise, Kennedy found out about the Soviet Union's (USSR) ballistic missiles deployed in Cuba. It was as if the third World War would break out at any minute, and tensions escalated every day of the incident. Kennedy wanted the missiles to be removed completely, while Khrushchev, the then leader of the USSR, gave Kennedy some pressure for the deployment of its troops near Turkey.
Kennedy did not back down and kept an adamant stance against the weapons of mass destruction to protect the American public from the possible ensuing danger, which was what probably made Khrushchev give in as he himself also did not want to wage a war against the U.S. The two giants worked out a deal and the Soviets decided to remove the missiles from its base in Cuba.
Despite the very tenuous relations between the two, ever since Fidel Castro’s end of his official leadership of the Cuban state and Barack Obama’s inauguration, those relations have improved. In April 2009, Obama, receiving almost half of the Cuban-American vote in the 2008 presidential election began implementing a less strict policy towards Cuba. Obama stated he is willing to talk with Cuba but would be willing to lift the trade embargo only if Cuba underwent political changes.
In March 2009, Obama signed into law a congressional spending bill which relaxed some economic sanctions on Cuba and travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans (defined as persons with a relative "who is no more than three generations removed from that person") traveling to Cuba. Furthermore, it removed time limits on Cuban-American travel to the island. This thawing of the past restrictions may be the key to help nonprofits and scientists from both countries work together on issues of mutual concern, such as the environment or pandemics affecting both nations. President Obama participated in the 2009 Fifth Summit of Americas, signaling the opening of a new beginning with Cuba.
President Obama’s accomplishments, to some degree, were affected by the new Cuban President, Raul Castro. On July 27, 2012, Raul Castro stated Cuban government is willing to hold talks with the U.S. government to “discuss anything.” On December 10, 2013, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shook hands, with Castro saying in English: “Mr. President, I am Castro.” Though both sides played down the handshake, quite similar to the Clinton handshake of 2000, Obama still had concerns about Cuban rights at the same time wanting to improve relations with the nation.
Beginning in 2013, Cuban and U.S. officials held secret talks in Vatican City, in which the meeting was partially arranged by Pope Francis in hopes of starting the process of restoring diplomatic relations between the two. On December 17, 2014, leaders of the countries announced the framework of an agreement to normalize relations and eventually end the longstanding embargo.
According to Kim Sang Jin, the ambassador for the Korean embassy in U.S., this new alliance is beneficial for both parties. He stated that “The renewal of the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is yet another sign of progress made by the Obama Doctrine. If it has intentions to improve the relationship, the Obama administration, so to speak, is willing to actively engage with the Cuban government, even if the partner of interest had harbored negative feelings for U.S.” Kim further expressed that “This new relationship has other implications beyond peace between the two countries, as the U.S. removed its biggest obstacle in its way to gain an even bigger influence on the American continent.”
▲ One of Cuba’s biggest export. Provided by lite-up.co.uk.
Cuba and the U.S. pledged to start official negotiations with the aim of reopening their respective embassies in Havana and Washington. As part of the agreement, aid worker Alan Gross and an unnamed Cuban national working as a U.S. intelligence asset were released by the Cuban government, which also promised to free an unspecified number of Cuban nationals from a list of political prisoners earlier submitted by the U.S. For its part, the U.S. government released the last three remaining members of the Cuban Five.
Implications of the Relationship
To begin with, Kim mentions that the political impact of the renewal is the biggest outcome of the new relationship. “Even for Cuba, this new relationship with the U.S. could be a turning point for them to expand its relationship with other Western countries and stimulate economic reconstruction.”
Meanwhile, the said resumption of the diplomatic relationship between the two, according to Kim, is a concept that is a bit different from the normalization of diplomatic alliance, as the two countries are now faced with the following problems: human rights in Cuba, the return of the Guantanamo Bay base, the claiming rights of Cuban property of Cubans seeking asylum in the U.S., and the removal of the current restrictions on Cuba such as embargoes. “So far, the two have been primarily focused on reopening their own embassies, and they have many more steps to go.”
For the case of the restrictions, Kim says, “Although Cuba has been removed from the ‘Terrorist Sponsors’ list at the request of the Cuban government, it cannot expect the restrictions to be definitely loosened, as the U.S. Congress still needs to pass the necessary bills.” He added that “The current removal of the restrictions can be called an ‘executive order’ by President Obama, as no congressional activity was needed for it.”
“President Obama left a good example which will go down in the diplomatic history of U.S. because this event shows that any two countries with a very hostile relationship in the past are capable of resolving their differences and starting new ties,” commented Kim. “Of course, a few Republicans and Cuban immigrants residing in Florida are opposed to this, but overall there is substantial support for the improvement of the relationship of the two. Moreover, this historic incident is also commendable in that it proves that practical diplomacy can overcome ideological differences.”
Bad News for the Good News
In January, high-level diplomats from Cuba and the U.S. met in Havana, and despite not much progress being made during the talks, both sides described them as “productive.” Under new rules implemented by the Obama administration, restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba have been significantly relaxed as of January 16, and the limited import of items like Cuban cigars to the U.S. is allowed, as is the export of American computer and telecommunications technology to Cuba.
An equivocal reaction, however, to this change in policy within the Cuban American community took place, as Cuban-American senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Bob Mendenez all criticized the Obama administration's change in policy. On the other hand, opinion polls indicated the thaw in relations was broadly popular with the American public. In addition, Kim claims that the issue of the relationship with Cuba has not been receiving as much attention as other diplomatic issues such as the Iran nuclear deal does. The current situation is that there is not as much public opinion as expected, which could slow down the overall progress of the new relationship.
Kim, moreover, was not too positive on the prospect of this new relationship between U.S. and Cuba affecting the relationship between South Korea (ROK) and North Korea (DPRK). “In order for the U.S-Cuba relationship to actually exert a positive influence on the two Koreas, it is imperative for DPRK to see the sincerity of the efforts of its opponents, but the fact of the matter right now is that DPRK views them harmful to itself.”
Despite this bleak outlook, there is a good chance that ROK will open up a new, beneficial relationship with Cuba, as one of Cuba’s greatest opponents in the past has begun a new diplomatic journey. “It is a good time for us to set up a new diplomatic relationship with Cuba, and we (ROK) have previously conveyed our intentions to establish such ties. The Korean government will continue to strengthen and maintain the trade and economic relationship with Cuba and, at the right timing, transform this relationship into a diplomatic one.”
▲ President of U.S. smiling. Provided by businessinsider.com.
▲ President of Cuba chuckling. Provided by businessinsider.com.