THE restoration of diplomatic relationships between the United States and Cuba has been hailed as a landmark for the administration of President Barack Obama. It ends the half-century of estrangement that at one point brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The mending of ties couldn’t have been possible without some religious (some say divine) intercession. Pope Francis helped bring on the thaw, as he convinced Cuban leader Raul Castro and Mr. Obama to work out the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor who was jailed in Cuba in 2009 on suspicion of working for US intelligence.
Mr. Gross was freed last December 17, and the ice that had encrusted the ties between Havana and Washington for so many decades quickly melted.
1961 marks the start of the big chill between the two nations. That was when a small army of Cuban refugees trained, armed and funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency tried to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. The Bay of Pigs, as the invasion came to be known, became a rout when the air support promised by the CIA did not arrive, leaving the invaders stranded on the beach. It was one of the humiliating misadventures that President Kennedy had to own up to.
A year later Mr. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Krushchev faced off over the presence of missiles in Cuba. For 13 days, the two leaders played a deadly game of nuclear brinkmanship as a US naval blockade stopped Soviet ships from supplying the missile sites. In the end, it was Krushchev who blinked first and ordered the ships to turn back.
Washington had been trying to choke Havana into submission by imposing an embargo on practically all Cuban goods and freezing Cuban assets in the US. Despite the restrictions, the island country not only survived but prospered to some extent, propped up by the Soviet Union and its satellite states.
As the Cold War came to a close and communism receded around the world, Cuba lost its ideological compass and its former patrons gravitated toward some form of Western-style democracy. Its traditional markets also began to shrink. Despite bold pronouncements by Fidel Castro, Cuba was becoming a political anachronism.
The Alan Gross affair opened possibilities for Havana, but it was not about to make the first move at reconciliation. Washington was also not about to jump into the pool first.
It was time for a miracle from Pope Francis. And the pontiff made it happen, playing the perfect go-between for Mr. Obama and Raul Castro.
“It will take an act of Congress, long overdue, to lift the US embargo put in place shortly after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba,” noted the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. “But the steps announced Wednesday by President Barack Obama are a step — make that a shove — in the right direction.”
Improving relations between the US and Cuba will definitely impact on the Philippines.
Let us not forget that we have been culturally and economically linked with Cuba since the 16th century, through the Galleon Trade. We’ve been relishing cigars from Cuban’s Pinar del Rio long before their aroma wafted into American men’s clubs.
We closed our embassy in Havana in 1961, no doubt under pressure from Washington, as the embargo was enforced. The embassy reopened in 1975, only to close again in 2012, as the Department of Foreign Affairs downsized its diplomatic missions abroad.
With Cuba expected to experience an economic resurgence, we cannot afford to be left in the sidelines. And that means restoring normal diplomatic contact with Havana.