American presidents in the second half of their second term tend to be seen as lame ducks. They will not be contesting the forthcoming election and whatever may constitute their legacy is assumed to have been cemented two years in the past. The Obama presidency may be bucking the trend, and although he has failed on a major campaign promise to close the Guantanamo detention centre in Cuba, he has delivered on the promise to normalise diplomatic relations between the two countries. One of the last vestiges of the Cold War disappeared into history at 12.01am on July 20, 2015 when the US and Cuba re-established formal diplomatic relations and reopened embassies in their respective capitals. Both countries have maintained offices below the level of embassy since 1961 when the Cold War was at its coldest and Cuban leader Fidel Castro threatened to expel American diplomats for “meddling in Cuban affairs”. This goes beyond mere symbolism. Ambassadors have yet to be named and the process will not be completed until US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Havana in August, but there is going to be no going back.
A half-century of animosity and mistrust is not going to be replaced by sweetness and light in the near future, and both sides acknowledge that there is years of rebuilding and reshaping ahead, but the outcomes are a win-win for both countries and the Caribbean region as a whole. Recent years have seen a quiet improvement in relations, with fewer provocations by either side and Americans are going to be able to smoke the much-sought-after Cuban cigars legally rather than otherwise. But it is more than the cheap ‘cigar’ headline. It is about trade, a mutual interest in combating the international drugs trade and promoting tourism — Americans want to see time-warped Cuba and its 1950s cars and taxis before they, too, disappear into the pages of history. For President Obama, there will be quiet satisfaction at a success abroad unlike that he has achieved at home, where America is as polarised as it ever was. Cuba has finally come in out of the cold.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.
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