As Cuba and the United States re-opened their respective embassies on Monday after 54 years, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered perhaps the only line on which all sides can agree: “This milestone does not signify an end to the many differences that still separate our governments.”
Indeed it doesn’t. The landmark flag-raising celebrating the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties represents an effort by the United States to try something new after a half-century of estrangement that saw freedom inside the island slowly erased and finally eliminated altogether.
It’s a hopeful moment, but many Cuban-Americans and Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits remain skeptical about the new approach. They have yet to see tangible progress in democratic reform and some sign that Cuba is ready to turn the page.
So far, there’s been little of that. Witness the remarks of Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Monday. He complained about the U.S. continuing to retain the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, repeated demands for an end to the 53-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and “compensation to our people for human and economic damages.”
New beginning, same script. No mention of human rights or political liberties, and, of course, no mention of the compensation that Cuba owes for all the properties and businesses that were criminally confiscated after the revolution.
The regime’s actions also conform to the old way of doing things. On the day before the ceremony in Washington, for the 14th consecutive Sunday, the Ladies in White movement reported new acts of repression during their weekly march to demand respect for human rights. They were met with the usual political violence, arbitrary arrests, and other acts of vandalism by Cuban police. The repression is part of a larger, unbroken pattern of anti-democratic violence directed against the voices of dissent on the island, before the rapprochement and afterward.
No one could have reasonably expected the Cuban government to change its character overnight, but until some tangible sign of progress becomes evident, it’s unlikely that the Obama administration’s policy will win new adherents in this country.
“The interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement,” Sec. Kerry declared said on Monday.
The only way to fulfill those words is to keep pressing for human rights reforms and to ensure that U.S. diplomats in Cuba at the redesignated U.S. Embassy make it a priority to do whatever they can without violating protocol to help ordinary Cubans achieve progress toward freedom.