Popular support growing for end to embargo, diplomatic stalemate dating to 1959.
Javier Galeano, The Associated Press
HAVANA, Cuba — They’ve hardly become allies, but Cuba and the U.S. have taken some baby steps toward rapprochement in recent weeks that have people on this island and in Washington wondering if a breakthrough in relations could be just over the horizon. Skeptics caution the Cold War enemies have been here many times before, only to fall back into old recriminations but there are signs that views might be shifting on both sides of the Florida Straits.
The countries have held talks in the past week on resuming direct mail service, and announced a July 17 meeting on migration issues. A U.S. federal judge in May allowed a convicted Cuban intelligence agent to return to the island. Cuba informed the family of jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross this month it would let an American doctor examine him, although the visit has apparently not yet happened. Cuban President Raul Castro has also ushered in a series of economic and social changes, including making it easier for Cubans to travel off the island.
Under the radar, diplomats on both sides describe a sea change in the tone of their dealings. Only last year, Cuban state television was broadcasting grainy footage of American diplomats meeting with dissidents on Havana streets and publicly accusing them of being CIA frontmen. Today, U.S. diplomats in Havana and Cuban Foreign Ministry officials have easy contact, even sharing home phone numbers.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for North American affairs, recently travelled to Washington and met twice with State Department officials, a visit that came right before the announcements of resumptions in the two sets of bilateral talks that had been suspended for more than two years. Washington has also granted visas to prominent Cuban officials, including the daughter of Cuba’s president.
“These recent steps indicate a desire on both sides to try to move forward, but also a recognition on both sides of just how difficult it is to make real progress,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University and former national security adviser on Latin America during the Carter administration. “These are tiny, incremental gains, and the prospects of going backwards are equally high.”
Among the things that have changed, John Kerry has taken over as U.S. secretary of state after being an outspoken critic of Washington’s policy on Cuba while in the Senate. U.S. President Barack Obama no longer has re-election concerns while dealing with the Cuban-American electorate in Florida, where there are also indications of a warming attitude to negotiating with Cuba.