US-Cuba relations and the "Cuban thaw": a quick debrief

Posted: 31-Jan-15 18:05

US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro recently announced that diplomatic relations between US-Cuba relations will normalised. We look at some of the driving political factors behind this historic move, possible obstacles, and what the changes means for everyday life on the Caribbean island, business and tourism.

US-Cuba relations and the "Cuban thaw": a quick debrief

US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro recently announced that diplomatic relations between the two countries would be normalised. We look at some of the driving factors behind this historic move, and what it means for the Caribbean island.

What Alan Gross' health had to do with it

US contractor Alan Gross had been detained by the Cuban administration for years, and his health was on a life-threateningly downward spiral. His death in jail would have become a major source of friction; Obama's administration authorised secret talks at the beginning of 2013 to secure Gross' release, brokered by Canada and the Vatican.

Venezuela to cut the purse strings?

According to some analysts, the country's looming economic crisis may have added to the pressure to release Gross. The government has generously supported Cuba economically and ideologically for years, but Cuba now fears that with falling oil prices hitting Venezuela hard, her pockets will be significantly shallower. When America's commerce comes calling, the financial pressure on Cuba may ease.

Winning political hearts and minds

Editorials in the New York Times calling for the embargo to be lifted have been the most obvious sign yet of a change of heart in the US. Obama himself declared that the embargo had "little effect", and had "failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba". Castro stressed in his declaration speech that there were still "profound differences" between the two countries, striking a note of caution rather than overt optimism. Former president Fidel Castro has signalled his backing of normalised US-Cuba relations.

Opposition and possible obstacles

Although the policy shift has been greeted with a degree of positivity for its potential empowering effects, it's been criticised by Cuban-American US politicians on both political sides. There are fears that it will allow the Castro regime to gain an unshakeable foothold, and even as being a positive reinforcement for the Cuban government's actions. Local protests have denounced Obama as a traitor. In any case, the power to fully lift the embargo and normalise relations lies in the hands of Congress – which has representatives in Florida, the island's nearest neighbour and home to a number of Cuban exiles.

The effect on Cuban life and international leisure

It will be possible for Cubans to build more private homes suitable to their needs, as there's a severe shortage. Among other things, there will also be improvements to the island's telecoms infrastructure. Internet access is painfully slow and expensive – and currently tourists are the only people allowed access.

Of course, a boost to the infrastructure will be a boost to tourism, and to the international businesses waiting for the embargo to lift. It's not cheap to go to Cuba as it is, but there are hopes that improved infrastructure will bring down some of the costs of otherwise highly restricted goods and services.


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