With the opening of Cuba under President Raul Castro and a more liberal US policy under President Obama, could the end to the US embargo be near? Recent events would suggest that Cuba is loosening it’s strict religious and political policies and the US is paving the way with cultural and social ambassadors, as well as the loosening of travel regulations.
Despite the souring of relations between Fidel Castro and the Roman Catholic Church after the revolution in 1959, President Raul Castro attended the inauguration of the first Catholic seminary since 1959 last week. Cardinal Ortega (the head of the Roman Catholic Church Cuba) had kind words for the Castros at the ceremony. Additionally in attendance were senior Vatican officials and the Archbishop of Miami (the center of the Cuban exile community).
In July, Cuba agreed to release 52 political prisoners (though Cuba considered them not political prisoners but United States mercenaries) that were a source of international pressure over human rights. This release was achieved with the help of the Vatican and the Spanish presidency of the EU, which has agreed to accept those released prisoners.
United States Cultural Ambassadorship
An art exhibition occurred in Havana during March 2009 that featured 30 artists from New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. This exhibit would mark the first time in 50 years that artists in Cuba would have a chance to view US artists and vice versa. While art is not banned by the trade embargo, the increasing travel restrictions by the Bush administration has made cross-cultural communication more difficult.
The American Ballet Theatre performed in Cuba in early November, as part of Havana’s International Ballet Festival. This group performed with the express consent of President Obama and received a warm welcome, as two of the ballet theatre’s lead dancers are originally from Cuba. Additionally Jazz at Lincoln Center performed the previous month to Havana.
President Obama has allowed US telecommunications companies to bid for licenses that could lead to a major impact if internet use and availability became widespread. President Obama has also eased some economic sanctions on Cuba and eased travel restrictions that would allow family members to visit more freely and send remittances.
Direct talks are being held between the two countries in New York regarding migration for the first time in 6 years. While only a one-day meeting, this does seem to be an initial step into a real dialogue between the countries’ leaders. President Obama has indicated that he would be open to dialogue with Cuba’s leaders, but that lifting the full embargo would only come after the introduction of democratic elections. Cuba’s President Raul Castro has said that he would be prepared to negotiate as long as there were no preconditions.
Even with these advances, they are not even among all. The New York Philharmonic had to cancel it’s plans to travel to Havana last year because the US government would not allow their wealthy patrons to travel with the orchestra. The orchestra has filed resubmitted its application to the Treasury Department stating that the patrons would be involved in activities for a children’s concert, maintaining lines, seating, and greeting guests. Support has come to the orchestra from Washington in a Senate Democrat from North Dakota, Secretary of State, and treasury Secretary, however the request is still pending in the bureaucratic system and if the orchestra does not receive a response soon, it will have to postpone the trip yet again.