Political change has been underway for a while now in Cuba.
The first tangible sign of a thaw in relations came at the beginning of April, when a delegation of six members of the US Congress visited the island to meet head of state Raul Castro and his brother and predecessor, Fidel. The group said they were impressed by Raul Castro’s determination to end the enmity between the two countries: “We, of course, discussed public opinion in the United States for lifting the embargo. I believe its maybe sixty eight percent of the American public want to see normal relations between Cuba and we discussed the implications of that.” said US Congress member Barbara Lee. Brought in by the-then US President John F. Kennedy in February 1962, the embargo has been successively relaxed or tightened in the intervening years depending on the policy of the government in Washington. However, the extent of these latest measures agreed by President Barack Obama means this is one of the most significant gestures by the US towards Cuba for many decades. Cuba says the embargo has cost its economy 93 billion dollars – or 70 billion euros. But it has never produced the result the US wanted – the fall of Castro and the restoration of democracy. Some even claim the blockade reinforced Castro’s power, allowing him to blame external forces for the internal problems faced by his country. More change, if it does come, will be progressive. There is no question of lifting the embargo in one fell swoop. Many US politicians remain opposed to removing the ban while the caribbean island remains under Communist control, fearing that may benefit the Cuban government. While he is in favour of relaxing the terms of the ban, former prisoner and anti-government campaigner Jose Gabriel Ramon agrees that its total removal would help the Castro government: “This will undoubtedly act in their favour, it will mean the dictatorship has money to play with and to do with as it likes..as it has done up until now, which is to reinforce its repressive policies.” Time is on Obama’s side. Raul Castro is 77 and Fidel, at 82, is not in the best of health. In the short term, observers say the US aim is to win over the leaders of Latin and South America who called for the embargo against Cuba to be lifted at their last meeting in Brazil in December. Obama’s gesture also comes just before this Friday’s summit in Trinidad and Tobago, to which Cuba has not been invited. However, it will offer the opportunity to show that by being kind to Cuba, the US is prepared to listen to the wider concerns of those in the region.