US and Cuba take a bold step in the interests of better relations

Outdated approach no longer relevant

 

This week’s agreement to start normalising relations between the United States and Cuba is a dramatic and welcome step towards ending more than five decades of hostility that have done nothing but harm to the people of both nations. After 18 months of negotiations, brokered by Canada and Pope Francis, President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro have agreed to restore full diplomatic relations following a Cold War-style prisoner swap. Cuba agreed to release an American contractor imprisoned for alleged spying and a Cuban national who had been working for US intelligence in return for the release of three Cubans jailed in the US for spying.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” Mr Obama said in a televised statement broadcast simultaneously to a separate statement from Mr Castro.

Washington will remove Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, ease restrictions on trade and travel and allow US companies to sell goods such as telecommunications equipment to Cuba. Mr Obama went as far as he could within the limits of his executive authority but the trade embargo with Cuba cannot be lifted fully without the approval of Congress, both houses of which will have Republican majorities from next month. Leading Republicans have already made clear their determination to prevent any such move, condemning this week’s deal as a betrayal of the victims of Cuba’s communist regime.

Attitudes among Cuban-Americans are changing, however, and the community is now almost evenly divided between traditional, hardline opponents of diplomatic engagement and advocates of a more flexible approach, who tend to be younger. Ever more Americans share the view, long dominant in Europe, that the embargo has caused undue hardship to Cuba’s people but has done nothing to encourage the government in Havana to improve its record on human rights. This week’s move is a welcome and bold advance.