President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba will reopen embassies in their respective capitals on July 20, officially restoring diplomatic ties between the two countries. The opening of a U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time in over 54 years would be the most tangible sign of progress in the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement since Obama announced his intentions to normalize relations in December 2014.
Wednesday’s news came after months of bilateral talks between Cuban and U.S. delegations, both in Havana and, most recently, in Washington on May 21 and 22. The U.S. cleared its biggest hurdle to opening an embassy in Cuba when it removed the country from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list on May 29.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Obama reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to working with the Cuban government and moving beyond what he called a “policy of isolation” that “hasn’t worked for fifty years.”
“American engagement,” he said, “…is the best way to advance our interests and support human rights.”
While significant, the reopening of embassies is only a step in what will be a bumpy road to reestablishing functional ties between Washington and Havana. The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba remains codified in U.S. law and can only be lifted by Congress. In light of the President’s announcement, the Cuban government said Wednesday that ending the embargo was “indispensable for the normalization of relations” between the neighboring countries.
While a majority of Americans favor normalizing their country’s relationship with Cuba, some members of Congress have expressed opposition to the process. Hard-line politicians who feel the President’s agenda wrongly legitimizes the Castro government, such as Cuban-American senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, have promised to block the confirmation of any potential ambassador to Cuba. Others have introduced legislation that would restrict the funding of an embassy in Havana.
Americas Quarterly publisher Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) welcomed the decision to reopen embassies in Washington and Havana. “The overwhelming support that this new course has received from leaders and people around the hemisphere and the world confirm that the Obama administration is moving in the right direction,” said AS/COA’s President and CEO Susan Segal. “We look forward to seeing Congress further the goals of these new policies to bring positive tangible benefits to the people and businesses of the U.S., Cuba and the region.”