Int’l Backing for Normalization in US-Cuba Ties After 50 Years

Int’l Backing for Normalization in US-Cuba Ties After 50 Years
Int’l Backing for Normalization in US-Cuba Ties After 50 Years

World leaders have welcomed a historic move by the US to end more than 50 years of hostility towards Cuba and restore diplomatic relations.

Pope Francis joined leaders from Latin America and Europe in praising the “historic” deal which saw the release of prisoners from both countries.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s.

President Obama said the “rigid and outdated policy” of isolating Cuba since then had clearly failed and that it was time for a new approach, the BBC reported.

Castro, meanwhile, has urged the US to ends its trade embargo, which has been in place since the Cuba turned to communism more than 50 years ago.

But power to lift the embargo, which Castro says has caused “enormous human and economic damage”, lies with the US Congress, and correspondents say many Republicans are still deeply opposed to this.

Obama and Castro spoke simultaneously on Wednesday to confirm the surprise reversal of a long-running US policy of isolating Cuba, detailing a series of White House steps that will relax travel, commercial and diplomatic restrictions in exchange for the release of Americans and dissidents held in Havana.

Though a formal end to the US trade embargo requires legislation in Congress, both Obama and Castro said they believed such executive action was sufficient to significantly open up relations between the two countries and allow travelers and trade to flow relatively freely.

Leading the praise, Pope Francis sent “warm congratulations” to Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro for overcoming “the difficulties which have marked their recent history”.

The announcement followed more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the pontiff.

  Historic Turning Point

The European Union, which is in the process of normalizing ties with Cuba, described the move as a “historical turning point”, while leaders meeting at a Latin America summit in Argentina broke into applause at the news.

Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz hailed it as “the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas”.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose predecessor Hugo Chavez was a close ally of Fidel Castro, said it was a “moral victory” and “victory for Fidel”.

The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, whose country never broke off ties with Cuba, welcomed what he called the “overdue development”.

As part of the deal, US contractor Alan Gross, 65, was released from Cuban prison in return for three Cubans held in the US. President Obama said the US was looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months.

Officials said that Obama and Castro spoke by telephone on Tuesday for nearly an hour - the first presidential-level talks between the two nations since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

  Pope Francis Role

Barack Obama and Raul Castro have thanked Pope Francis for helping broker a historic deal to begin normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, after 18 months of secret talks over prisoner releases brought a sudden end to decades of cold war hostility.

Secret negotiations between the US and Cuba in Canada, that have been ongoing since 2013 were closely watched and supported by Pope Francis, who personally wrote to both leaders and hosted a crucial secret summit at the Vatican this autumn, which they credited with helping clinch the deal.

Aside from President Obama and the Cuban president, the pontiff was said to be the only other foreign leader directly involved in the talks.

“His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me and to Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case and to address Cuba’s interests in the release of three Cuban agents, who’ve been jailed in the United States for over 15 years,” said Obama.

Francis’ support was particularly important given Cuba’s historical and cultural Catholic identity, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the talks publicly, adding that and Pope Francis’s election as the first-ever pope from Latin America gave him credibility.

Before he was Pope Francis, the Argentinian served as Bishop of Buenos Aires, where he was a prominent member of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America. That group, along with the Vatican and US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long advocated for normalized relations between the United States and Cuba.

Their rationale “stems from the Vatican’s long-standing desire to overcome conflictual divisions between nations,” said Stephen Schneck, who works at the Catholic University of America. “It’s very much part of the pope’s own understanding of proper foreign relations.”