A year may have passed since Cuba and the US made a rapprochement in their diplomatic ties, yet progress has been slow.
As embassies were re-opened in Washington and Havana, change appeared imminent.
Despite banks and telecommunications companies benefiting from eased relations during the first few months, relations have got off to a slow start, as the half decade trade embargo has left many questions unanswered.
A slow start
As President Barack Obama unveiled plans this week to make a long-overdue visit to the island, with the hope of meeting with political dissidents still held in the U.S. owned prison at Guantanamo bay, it was certainly optimistic to believe that relations which have remained frosty since the Cold War will improve overnight.
Certainly, one shared political goal is the hope that relations will continue to improve even after Obama leaves office and Cuba’s Raúl Castro hands over power in 2017.
Positive steps are obvious in the tourism market, as around 110 daily flights are set to be rescheduled between the former Cold War foes. Direct mail could also soon be re-established, rather than directing correspondence through a third country.
Last week both nations began difficult discussions in relation to asset claims filed by the U.S. against Cuba – outlining that some $1.9 billion in real estate, farms and properties were seized when the embargo was enforced.
Yet Cuba has fought back, as the island claims that the U.S. must respond for the years of damage and economic harm it has produced as a result of the 50-year-old embargo. In 1999 a Cuban court found the U.S. government liable for deaths and damages caused as a result of its “aggressive policies” against the island, ordered its northern neighbor to pay up $181 billion in damages, the New York Times reports.
Then of course there is the small issue of the $16 billion debt which Cuba defaulted in 1986. Discussions have opened as to the creation of a repayment plan, following Cuba agreeing to pay some $5 billion in exchange for forgiving $11 billion in service charges, interest and penalties. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin commented that of the $470 million in principal and original interest payments that the country owes France, the largest creditor, $240 million will be repaid with the outstanding set to be converted into development projects for the island.
Not forgetting the thousands of Cubans who have fled the island over dreams of a better life in the U.S. and have subsequently become stranded in Central America – provoking what could soon result in one of the gravest immigration crises that the region has seen to date.
The daily lives of Cuba’s residents has also remained the same, as Castro’s unwavering regime governs an island which still remains a step behind it’s Caribbean neighbors.
Of course it was unrealistic to expect that a major breakthrough could possibly be reached just a year later. A thaw in trade relations has certainly benefited both countries, but as economic and political hurdles continue to stilt progress, tourism looks to be the only market which has truly benefited, for now.
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