Extending an olive branch to Cuba

Obama move opens up possibility of ‘a new era in the Americas’


There is much symbolism in the welcome proposed removal by the US of Cuba from its list of rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Now North Korea and Syria alone stand so indicted – “evil-doers”, as George Bush would have it – and a last major relic of Cold War politics bites the dust.

The thaw in the 54-year stand-off between Washington and Havana, greeted with jubilation in Cuba, has also helped transform the dynamic, or at least the mood, of intra-American politics, notably at last week’s Summit of the Americas. The US had been a pariah there in recent years because of its attitude to Cuba.

President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro held the first sit-down meeting between leaders of the two countries since the Cuban Revolution – the latter even described Obama as “honest” and humble. “The world of politics and diplomacy is, in good measure, one of grand symbols,” Mexico’s El Universal announced in an editorial headlined, “A New Era in the Americas.”

Obama’s decision in December to work to ease the embargo, although constrained by Congress, to restore diplomatic relations and reopen the US embassy – currently the US is represented by an “interests section”removed an important impediment to better relations with other Latin American states, as does his embrace of immigration reform in the US. Some of the 35-member bloc remain critical of his imposition of sanctions against some Venezuelan officials over human rights abuses. But the US moves also help to remove a diplomatic bone of contention with the EU which has long regarded the embargo as counterproductive.

Congress has 45 days to consider Obama’s “sponsors of terror”decision before it takes effect, but lawmakers cannot stop it unless both chambers approve a joint resolution – most unlikely. He was criticised, predictably, by Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Florida who has just declared for the presidency.He denounced it as a “terrible” decision, saying Cuba was helping North Korea evade sanctions and harbouring fugitives from American justice.