The presidents of the United States and Cuba, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, met on Saturday at the Summit of the Americas, the first public ice-breaking between the two countries’ governments. For the first time in five and a half decades, enmity between Washington and Havana gave way to fresh hope for better ties. That in itself is important considering the severe crises between U.S. administrations (especially those of Kennedy and Nixon in the 1960s and ’70s) and the former government of Fidel Castro (the president’s brother). At the height of the Cold War, the close relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba made the latter both an outpost not far from the shores of Florida and the Soviet representative in the developing world – for example, in Angola. This tense situation almost led to World War III with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
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The current thaw in relations reflects an understanding in Washington of the need to break with convention, one that had become fixed as the decades passed and circumstances changed. The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago. The elderly Fidel Castro retired and is not stopping Raúl from moving closer to Obama. The traditional concern in Washington over its “backyard” – Latin America – which began nearly 200 years ago with the Monroe Doctrine, has not been canceled. But it has been updated, in keeping with the new situation on the continent and worldwide. This is also a political fact: Many Cuban refugees and immigrants live in the United States and impact its policies and elections – especially in Florida, which could decide the future of the presidency.
It is clear that the Nobel Peace Prize, which Obama was surprisingly awarded before he had even finished his first year in office, hangs around his neck like a millstone, waiting to become a legacy. Obama has been unable to move humanity closer to nuclear disarmament – as had been his hope – but he has sought to reduce U.S. military involvement overseas, and to avoid entanglements that are not widely supported by the U.S. public. Despite the haughty remarks of his Republican opponents, that’s one of the main reasons for his diplomatic move regarding Iran.
In fact, two of the idols of the American right, President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, found a partner for practical understandings in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Obama found such a partner in Raúl Castro, and it looks like he hopes Iranian President Hassan Rohani is cut from the same cloth (with the consent of his own Fidel – Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). The U.S. president deserves our support and good wishes.