American Alan Gross being embraced after being released by the Cuban government as part of the historic negotiations (White House)
American Alan Gross being embraced after being released by the Cuban government as part of the historic negotiations (White House)

By Harry C. Blaney III

There is no doubt that history will record President Obama’s decision to engage with Cuba and offer recognition and most importantly changing at long last the unproductive isolation of both Cuba and ourselves from real diplomacy and meaningful contact as one of his most important diplomatic achievements. But now the hard work starts to make the new relations work for both America and the Cuban people.

Sadly the Republicans are still being obstructive with a head in the ground view, looking back with the blinders of a failed and worn out ideology. When President Obama made pubic his decision on Wednesday, December 17th, it was like a dark leaded curtain had been lifted and new light had a long last appeared in this long running and difficult relationship. It was not just turning a new page, it was like starting a new book on which the pages still have to be written.

I remember only too well the earlier events that started this dark chapter in relations with Cuba. I was in Washington and then in New Haven when “Ike” ordered the embargo, when the Bay of Pigs occurred, when the transition from “Ike” to Kennedy took place and the existential moment for us all of the Cuban nuclear  missile crisis and its aftermath. It has had a profound impact on my generation and not least my group of international relations grad students which lives with us to this day. Then my academic focus was on the Soviet Union, the future of Europe, and strategic issues. These events set the course for our later mixed relations with the then Soviet Union, but also with the closing of the door firmly to Cuba. America made many mistakes in dealing with Cuba and some with the Soviet Union, but President John F. Kennedy will be most remembered for, when our very existence was threatened, he acted with great courage, wisdom, and prudence against the advice of his military chiefs and DOD and State department heads who supported military action not knowing that nuclear weapons had already been installed in Cuba and the Soviet top officer in that country had authority to use them without orders from Moscow if Cuba was attacked. But Kennedy and a few others saw a way in negotiating a path away from utter destruction by applying the skill of “smart diplomacy” rather than the mindless cries we even here today for more and more thoughtless war.

Obama has set his sights to the future and not the past and created a realistic strategy and policies aimed at true constructive engagement, not least the opening of diplomatic relations sending and accepting Ambassadors, increase in person-to-person contacts, new economic possibilities, and yes, working still for increased human rights and even progress towards greater democracy in Cuba. All of this will take time and the path remains uncertain. What is certain is that the past antagonistic approach gained little and even solidified authoritarian rule in Cuba.

Already concrete gains have resulted from the secret diplomacy: jailed political prisoners have been released, two people have been released back to America from Cuban prison, and we have sent back Cuban individuals who have already served long terms for which we held them responsible for illegal acts on American soil. It is now a new start. The path ahead will not always be easy on either the U.S. or Cuban side. Hard work will be required. Much of the success of this new engagement will be due to my organization, the Center for International Policy, that for decades has been in the forefront in advocating for opening relations. There are many opportunities even within the structure of the Cuban trade embargo laws and other restrictions for progress, but there is a growing recognition that this is the right path both here in America and in Cuba. This is thus a time for creativity, of new ideas about types of cooperation and courage, and not least persistence.

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