The United States boycott of Cuba is so out of step with the attitude of the rest of the world that it sometimes seems as though it is Washington - not Havana - that has been isolated by the policy. When the United Nations general assembly debated the long-standing US embargo last year, the disjunction between the US and the rest over Cuba was almost total: fully 185 countries voted against the US policy, while just three - the US, Israel and the Pacific island of Palau - voted in favour. As a definition of a policy failure, this takes some beating.Writer and historian Richard Gott offers a celebratory account. A triumph of common sense over ancient prejudice
President Barack Obama's decision to relax the sanctions that prevent the 1.6 million Cuban-Americans from visiting the island when they wish and from sending as much money to relatives as they choose therefore marks a significant shift in approach. Do not, though, exaggerate it. The new policy is not a complete volte-face. As Fidel Castro himself said in a statement on Monday, the trade embargo, the most significant of all the US measures, remains in place. Americans of non-Cuban descent are still barred from visiting. Further normalisation leading to diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba is still some way off. Mr Obama might have more trouble than it is worth persuading Congress to lift some of these restrictions.
The poetry of revolution has been exchanged for the prosaic reality of everyday life in an isolated and beleaguered island. Yet now at last there is a fresh chance that this magical society, whose revolutionary process aroused so much hope and excitement half a century ago, can pursue the unique, independent role it once created for itself, without brutal pressures from outside. [...] For the Americans, this is a triumph of common sense over ancient prejudice. It is clearly designed to pave the way to a rapprochement that will lead eventually to a complete normalisation of relations – a decision that will ease the path of the Obama administration towards a new friendship with the left-inclined countries of Latin America who have long since made their peace with Cuba.Rory Carroll offers a less romanticised assessment. Open for business.
No one starves, but for most Cubans life is a daily grind. Absurdly low monthly wages of $22 have spawned a nation of hustlers and micro-capitalists. Many have a sideline, a scam, to make ends meet. This thin strip in the Caribbean is not quite the "museum of socialism" that some depict. But there is no doubting it is Fidel's living, breathing creation. It is unique. A tropical communist state carved by one's man vision, charisma and ruthlessness. Now Cubans hope an apertura will blow some vitality into its moribund economy.Aljazeera report on Castro’s response to the measures, which he describes as "positive although minimal" - Castro welcomes US Cuba moves.
The Havana beloved by European and Canadian tourists is a time-warp stereotype: colonial-era architecture, 1950s Chevys and Buicks cruising the streets, not a Starbucks in sight, and a population ready to fiesta at the mention of rum. Crime is near nonexistent, the health service and education system are fantastic, and salsa rules the night.[...]
Much of that image is romanticised. Up close, the handsome buildings stink from bad plumbing. Chinese buses and Skodas are replacing the tail-fins. A diet of starch and grease has widened waistlines and roughened skin. Pregnant women and infants receive stellar medical care but many hospitals and schools are foul, victims of degradation since the economic crisis in the 90s. [...]
More tourist dollars would narrow a massive trade deficit and bring desperately needed foreign currency, which is why the government is building and extending resorts and marinas. The boom would also aggravate inequalities: white, better-educated Cubans in cities and the west of the island would benefit more than darker-skinned compatriots in slums and villages.
Cuba seems already poised for change. Free elections, consumer culture, internet cafes, pornography, well-stocked supermarkets, obesity: it may come in a rush, or bit by bit, but transformation will come. The result will be an island that looks more like everywhere else. For some outsiders that may be cause for regret. So be it. Cuba is not their island and they do not live there. If Cubans want to be more like the rest of the world, warts and all, who has the right to stop them?
Castro, 82, also criticised the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, for leaving the 47-year US trade embargo against Cuba in place. [...] "The measure of easing the restrictions on trips is positive although minimal. Many others are needed," Castro had written in the first of two online columns that the US had announced the repeal of "several hateful restrictions," but had stopped short of real change. "Of the blockade, which is the cruellest of measures, not a word was uttered," the former president wrote. "In effect, it's a form of genocide. Harm cannot only be measured by its economic effects. It has a constant cost in human lives and it causes our citizens painful suffering," Castro said.The Telegraph's Alex Spillius argues Change is slow in Cuba – and that suits just about everyone.
A good rule of thumb in predicting Barack Obama's foreign policy in a given area has been to reverse the course taken by George W Bush. This week has seen a sterling example, in the shape of relations with Cuba. [...]But, tellingly, the President did not present these changes himself. That was left to his press secretary Robert Gibbs, who made the announcement on the afternoon of Easter Monday, a piece of stagecraft designed to bury the news as far down the evening bulletins as possible.
For all his pretensions to be a herald of change, Mr Obama can still see the risks in sticking his neck out on Cuba. Already concerned about reaching out too far to countries that really matter, such as Iran and Russia, the White House is satisfied with slow progress in dealing with a strategically extraneous – and electorally sensitive – island of 11 million people. [...]
If the Castros lost the embargo, an estimated 500,000 extra Americans would make the short flight south in just the first year, generating approximately $1.5 billion worth of business. But would Cuba suddenly become a thriving tourist paradise?
Even travel agents gagging to fill charter flights from New York wonder if a country where foreigners have long complained about bad food, sluggish service and iffy infrastructure is ready for an onslaught of Americans unseen since the days of Al Capone and his cronies. Cuba has a limited number of hotel rooms and most are already full of Canadians and Europeans. Droves of Americans could be more than Cuba can handle. [...] In other words, everyone says they want change in Cuba, but no one is confident about how it will turn out – hence why the slow approach seems to suit everyone just fine.