President Obama has announced the reopening of the American Embassy in Havana this morning, following rumors that the United States had agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with the communist dictatorship this month as part of the White House’s “normalization” program to reintegrate the Cuban regime into polite international society.
While President Obama described the embassy as “not merely symbolic” and a move representing the liberation of the American people from “the past” in a speech this morning, the Cuban government issued a statement refusing to reestablish full diplomatic relations with the United States until America gifted the territory of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba and ceased broadcasting radio and television news reports into the island, which constitute the only way many Cubans have of receiving trustworthy international news.
“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anybody expected it would be half a century before it reopened,” President Obama noted, arguing that “sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.” “We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” he continued, announcing that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana on July 20 to attend the hoisting of the American flag over the new embassy.
While President Obama boasted of Americans’ privilege to not be “imprisoned by the past,” 84-year-old dictator Raúl Castro assured Cubans in his official statement on diplomatic relations with the United States that the Cuban people would remain in his shackles. Cuba “will continue bottled up in the process of realizing its economic and social model, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the nation’s development, and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution,” the statement reads.
President Obama did not make any specific demands in his speech, noting only that the United States “will not hesitate to speak out against actions that contradict” American values, but placing emphasis on the claim that “Americans want to get to know their neighbors to the south,” and that members of Congress opposed to the appeasement of the Castro regime should “listen to the Cuban people” in voting for the lifting of America’s embargo on Cuba.
Multiple Cuban political dissidents have condemned the White House’s moves to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Castro autocracy. “These agreements are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban resistance to be a betrayal of the aspiration for the freedom of the Cuban people. They are unacceptable for us,” said Jorge Luis García Pérez, known more popularly as Antúnez, who served a 17-year prison sentence for his pro-freedom and pro-capitalist political beliefs in Cuba, earlier this year.
In testimony against President Obama’s overtures to Cuba before Congress earlier this year, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler noted, “Cuba continues to be a one-party government where fundamental freedoms that are an absolute right in American society constitute crimes against so-called state security.”
On Sunday, the Ladies in White were banned from attending Catholic Mass in at least one church in Cuba while wearing white, following remarks by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the senior Catholic official on the island, that Cuba no longer holds political prisoners. The Ladies in White are all mothers, daughters, sisters, and cousins of political prisoners and, as such, their existence became immediately inconvenient for the Catholic Church.
Where President Obama failed to make any specific demands on the Cuban government, the Castro regime made certain to demand the United States censor its journalistic broadcasts and yield American land to the Cuban government:
To achieve the normalization of relations, it will also be indispensable that the illegally occupied territory at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base be returned; the radio and television broadcasts towards Cuba, which violate international norms and hurt our sovereignty, cease; and programs directed towards promoting subversion and internal destabilization end; and that the Cuban people be compensated for human and economic damage provoked by United States policies.
President Obama has not yet publicly remarked on gifting the Castro dictatorship with the Guantánamo Bay base, though he has been a vocal supporter of shutting down detention operations there.