For President Barack Obama, the opening of the U.S. Embassy in the heart of Havana is one of the most tangible demonstrations of his long-standing pledge to engage directly with U.S. adversaries. Heralding the embassy agreement, Obama declared: “This is what change looks like.”
Cuban media stations broadcast Obama’s statement live, underscoring the new spirit. In a letter to Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro praised the embassy announcement as a way to “develop respectful relations and cooperation between our peoples and governments.”
Despite the historic step, the U.S. and Cuba are still grappling with deep divisions and mistrust.
The U.S. is particularly concerned about Cuba’s reputed human rights violations. Cuba is demanding an end to the U.S. economic embargo, the return of the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay and a halt to broadcasts aimed at the island.
Obama wants Congress to lift the embargo, but staunch Republican opposition makes that unlikely in the near future. Republicans, as well as a handful of Democrats, say Obama is prematurely rewarding an oppressive government.
The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro’s revolution. The U.S. spent decades trying to either overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island.