United States and Cuba to Re-Open Embassies
The long wait is over.
The governments of the United States and Cuba have announced that they will re-open embassies in each country, ending a 54-year rupture in diplomatic relations between the two nations.
In remarks at the White House today, President Barack Obama said, “I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and reopen embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
In Havana, Cuban president Raul Castro’s letter to President Obama was read on national television. “We want to develop a friendship between our two nations that is based on the equality of rights and the people’s free will,” Castro said in the letter. The Cuban government announced the embassies would re-open on July 20.
According to news reports Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Havana to raise the American flag over the embassy, which has housed the U.S. Interests Section, the only formal U.S. presence inside Cuba, for more than 50 years.
But Castro’s letter also highlighted the hurdles that remained to a full restoration of all economic ties between the two countries. “There could be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be fully implemented, causing damage and scarcities to the Cuban people. The blockade is the main obstacle to the development of our economy; it is a violation of international law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”
President Obama noted that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba had failed for more than 50 years, and it was time to try “something new.” He also suggested that there was support among the American people, who recognize that re-establishing diplomatic relations is the “right thing to do.” He acknowledged that the two governments would continue to “have their differences,” but that he and President Castro can “continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests.” He added that the efforts included diplomatic relations, opening embassies in Havana and Washington and encouraging contacts between the two countries.
The two countries broke off ties in 1961 at a moment when the Cold War with the Soviet Union was ramping up, and Fidel Castro aligned Cuba with the Soviet Bloc. In the years after the diplomatic break, the two nations had virtually no official contact. Communications were limited to two offices, known as Interests Sections in Havana and Washington, which operated under the auspices of Swiss embassies in both countries. In December 2014, President Obama announced that he would begin the process to normalize relations with Cuba; he and President Castro met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the first time leaders from both countries had met privately face to face since the 1960s. Since then, the U.S. State Department has removed Cuba from the list of nations accused of state-sponsored terrorism. The embassy re-opening is another tangible step toward full relations between the two countries.