At 12:01 a.m. this morning, the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations when they reopened embassies in each other’s countries. This historic move took more than two years to coordinate and is greater than 50 years in the making. Specifically, both nations had to overcome years of enmity and animosity in order to make this work. The Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, will travel to the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. to raise the Cuban flag, while the raising of the United States flag in Cuba will take place in August, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana. Kerry’s visit to Cuba is the highest-level trip by an American official to Cuba since 1959.
The reopening of embassies is the first step in what is expected to be a years-long process of diminishing Cubans’ anti-American sentiment. Cuban President Raul Castro stated last week that "a new stage will begin, long and complex, on the road toward normalization.” This stage “will require the will to find solutions to the problems that have accumulated over more than five decades and hurt ties between our nations and peoples."
Ties between Washington and Havana finally snapped in 1961 when Cuban leader Fidel Castro threatened to expel American diplomats for meddling in Cuban affairs. The Cuban government had seized American property and executed American officials from the Fulgencio Batista regime, which was overthrown by Fidel Castro. The years that followed included the failed U.S. led invasion of the Bay of Pigs, the declaration by Fidel Castro that his revolution was socialist, repeated CIA attempts to assassinate Castro, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. These events further poisoned relationships between the countries for decades.
Despite these events, in 1977, a brief period of improved relations between Cuba and the United States occurred and both countries opened Interests Sections in the buildings of their former embassies. These Interests Sections were a step below embassies and allowed the sparring countries to maintain diplomatic dealings without officially restoring relations.
Despite the reopening of the embassies, many questions remain, such as if/when the American trade embargo of Cuba will be lifted; whether Cuba will improve the human rights of its citizens; and whether the lives of Cubans will improve. Presently, the average income of a Cuban citizen is $20 monthly.
The Obama administration recently eased travel restrictions between the countries and expanded the amount of goods that Americans visiting Cuba could take home, such as Cuban cigars and rum. Earlier this spring, Obama also removed Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. All of these measures will hopefully, in time, improve everyday relationships between the countries and will encourage citizens of both countries to accept each other rather than further instill negative feelings about each other.