It’s time to Break It Down!
As a nation, we are headed toward one of the signature weekends of the summer, if not the year. Saturday will be the Fourth of July, or, as it’s officially known in the U.S., Independence Day. It’s a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, when the country declared independence from Great Britain.
Independence Day is commonly a time for fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, and political speeches and ceremonies, in addition there are a number of other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States.
This year we will add a little extra spice to the celebratory fireworks. In a reversal of 55 years of varying degrees of less than neighborly hostilities, more than 54 of those years without diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba plan to announce an agreement today to officially seal the renewal of diplomatic ties. The two countries will reopen embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time since January 3, 1961, the climax of deteriorating relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower closed the American Embassy in Havana and severed all diplomatic connections. This action signaled the willingness of the U.S. to take extreme measures to oppose the Castro Regime, which officials in this country believed was transforming into a beachhead of communism in the Western Hemisphere. The stated reason for the dissolution of relations was, ostensibly, Castro’s demand that the U.S. reduce its embassy staff, based upon his assertion that the staff was being used as a base for spying. With that action, the Cold War became an active intra-continental political sport in the Western Hemisphere.
Back on Wednesday, December 17, 2014, President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana. He vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
The announcement, a surprise at the time, followed the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis, and concluded by a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro. The unexpected and historic deal broke a prolonged stalemate between two countries separated by just 90 miles of water, but oceans of mistrust and hostility that go back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill, and the nuclear brinksmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.
In revealing the deal to the American public, President Obama said:
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. The deal will begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas and move beyond a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
In taking this avant-garde step in diplomacy, President Obama proved once again, as he had with healthcare reform that he dared tread where those who came before him opted to sidestep. Ten Presidents that preceded Mr. Obama had refused to go there. In fact Republicans, along with at least one senior Democrat, characterized the action as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republicans, who were slated to control both houses of Congress, beginning in January, promised to resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants, said:
“All this is going to do is give the Castro Regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”
There are still hurdles to overcome. For the moment, there remains a Cuba travel ban in place on U.S. citizens, and Cuba is still subject to a U.S. arms embargo, in place since 1962, though President Obama has urged Congress to lift it.
Despite the hardcore GOP bravado, the wheels of change roll on. The two countries have operated diplomatic missions called “interest sections” in each other’s capitals since 1977 under the legal protection of Switzerland. However, they do not enjoy the same status as full embassies. It appears that will change in a matter of weeks.
This past April, President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, met for the first formal talks between the two countries in more than half a century. In May, the U.S. moved Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nations also announced plans to resume ferry and air service between the U.S. and Cuba.
The President has long viewed ending the U.S. freeze with Cuba as central to his foreign policy legacy. It has taken the country more than five decades, and it has taken this President more than six years, but today is the day the U.S. announces a reset for Cuban relations, and with it an extension of the great week he had last week. A White House spokesman said President Obama would deliver a statement on Cuba this morning from the Rose Garden. Secretary of State Kerry is expected to speak from Vienna, about embassy openings, which are anticipated to occur in July.
The Secretary would likely travel to Cuba for an embassy opening. In Havana, the American Embassy will likely occupy the same building where the “interest section” currently operates. That is the same structure, situated on the Havana waterfront, which housed the American Embassy prior to the severing of diplomatic ties after the Cuban Revolution. Much has changed, yet some things do remain the same.
As you prepare to observe the upcoming Independence Day holiday, whether it be by eating too much, drinking too liberally, engaging friends and family at home, or taking on a travel expedition, under the shade of Old Glory, or in the surreal backdrop of the Southern Cross (Rebel Flag…in case you don’t know), feel free to kick it off, beginning today, as the amity of the Americas gets a little more genuine, because of…”Rapprochement: The United States and Cuba Resume Diplomatic Relations!”
I’m done; holla back!
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