US President Barack Obama has met with Cuban President Raul Castro in what is seen as a key step in the reconciliation between the two nations. Relations between the United States and Cuba are improving as the countries begin to move beyond their differences. Regarding the relationship, Mr Obama said “over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.” Any changes or improvement in the relationship may be gradual although the meeting further strengthens the cause to normalise relations between the two countries.
The historical relationship between Cuba and the US was challenged due to Cuba’s allegiance with Russia (then the Soviet Union) and historical differences. There have been numerous trade embargos, which may be lifted in the future, which have characterised the relationship between the two countries due to their apparent ideological differences. The relationship was called into question when, in 1959, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led a regime change that led to the establishment of a revolutionary socialist state. The change from the US-backed President Fulgencio Batista to the Castro regime with close ties to the Soviet Union led to the trade embargo in 1960. Within Washington, political reform and human rights are seen as important challenges on which Cuba may improve.
The meeting came following the Summit of the Americas in Panama that countries from North, South and Central America attended. In its seventh year, this is the first time Cuba has been represented. A leader from each country around the continent attended and the summit is an important opportunity for diplomatic meetings to take place. The relationship between Cuba and the US was a key topic of the summit which was highlighted by the welcoming comments by numerous leaders in support of the beginnings of reconciliation. The Cuban leader, Raul Castro, spoke about the disposition to “talk about everything, with patience.”
This indicates that both Presidents appear to be proceeding slowly in an attempt to strengthen the reconciliation. It might be expected for the relationship to continue to normalise with each diplomatic interaction between the countries. Reconciliation with Cuba may be an important part of the legacy that President Barack Obama provides to his successor as leader. At a time when China is gaining influence in South and Central America as well as across the developing world through its financial support, the US may be seen to be attempting to increase its involvement in the region.
Following a continually questionable relationship between Venezuela and the United States it may seem that strengthening the bonds with other countries in the region is a shrewd move in improving US relations in the region. Equally, normalising relations with Cuba may provide the United States with the opportunity to further its involvement with potential reforms in the country. Increasing involvement might actually both provide the US with better relations with a country in close proximity with itself and also eventually open up the possibility of trade.
The United States appears to be changing its strategic relations with Cuba because of the realisation that the potential for change is greater with more integration. Furthermore, it might be an important way to build US involvement within the continent. It often finds challenging relations with its southern neighbours and the movement towards normalised relations with Cuba is a step towards a more effective perception of the country across the continent. The reestablishment of diplomatic relations also marks an important change of the two countries’ shared history. Although adjustments may have to be made, if the neighbours begin to consolidate the reconciliation it might be the beginning of a period of normalised and productive relations between the United States and Cuba.
How might the improvement of relations between the United States and Cuba lead to a more productive US role in Latin America?