By Ben van der Horst
On Tuesday July 21, 2015, World Affairs Council – Washington, DC hosted a Foreign Policy Panel event, “Thaw in US-Cuba Relations: What’s Next?” On July 20, 2015, the Cuban flag flew over its embassy in Washington, DC for the first time after 54 years of hostility resonating from the Cold War era. T In December 2014, President Barack Obama revealed to the public his secret negotiations with Cuban officials and his goals of renormalizing US-Cuba relations for good. While many see this as a positive development, there are still many issues that stand in the way of normalization. The WAC-DC discussion addressed the challenges and potential impacts for the United States and Cuba in the process of reestablishing regular relations. Panelists Included: Peter Hakim, President Emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue; Ambassador Otto Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and President of Otto Reich Associates, LLC; and Sarah Stephens, the Executive Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. The program was moderated by Maria Peña, the Washington Correspondent for impreMedia.
Maria Peña probed the panelists on how this normalization would affect the average Cubans and Americans, in addition to how the process of normalization would be realized. She emphasized the importance of the deal between John Kerry and the Cuban foreign secretary in providing the Cuban people with economic and humanitarian assistance, in addition to its potential role in pushing the Castro regime to reform.
Peter Hakim posited that this meeting will have a great impact on the Cuban people, however at its current state, the discussions between the US and Cuba were primarily symbolic; the two countries will need to generate trust over time to move beyond their past differences. Furthermore, Mr. Hakim argued that it will be difficult to politically sell these changes in US policy, as Cuba has provided the United States nothing in return; the GOP will block funding and dogmatically oppose any deal that may come to pass during the present administration.
Ambassador Otto Reich on the other hand cautioned the audience of the dangers of forgetting and ignoring history; the primary reason for the United States’ frozen relations with Cuba is due to the Castro regimes brutal treatment of its people. Furthermore Ambassador Reich asserted that any concessions the United States give the Castro government will only further entrench the dictatorship’s grip on the country.
Ms. Sarah Stephens highlighted the importance of recognizing the Cuban government’s progress in recent years, no matter how small it may be. Examples she provided were the increasing number of internet cafes the government has opened and the government’s willingness to allow representatives from the Red Cross to provide the country with humanitarian assistance. This program was recorded for broadcast at a later date on the Council’s television show World Affairs TODAY.