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Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba

President Barack Obama will arrive in Cuba on Sunday for a two-day visit. Suffice to say, he is making history by venturing into what was once considered “enemy territory”. The visit, the first by a U.S. president in 88 years, would have been impossible until Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in December 2014 to end the estrangement between the two nations. To the uninitiated, the estrangement began when the Cuban revolution overthrew a pro-American government in 1959. Prior to the historic December 2014 agreement, eighteen months were spent in back-channel talks between Washington and Havana. Since the rapprochement, the two nations have restored diplomatic ties. In addition, commercial deals have been signed on telecommunications and airline services, besides cooperation on matters pertaining to law enforcement and environmental protection. But major differences remain, notably the 54-year-old economic embargo of Cuba. “The trade embargo still stands as a major obstacle, a politically charged issue that only Congress can fix,” according to an editorial in the Boston Globe. “Entrepreneurial success in areas like the tourism industry and commercial development, along with more political tolerance in Cuba, will go a long way toward helping to lift the embargo.” Obama asked Congress to rescind it but has been blocked by the Republican leadership. Instead, President Obama used his executive authority to loosen trade and travel restrictions. But any long-term change to US-Cuba relations will need the assent of the US Congress. Nonetheless, the visit is a landmark development in not only international relations not just between these two hitherto sworn enemies, but also at a wider level, ushering in an era of American pragmatism. As the fifty-three years of embargo began to crumble, and as opinion pages of American media alternately cheer-led and lampooned Obama’s gumption, questions came tumbling out of the foreign policy closet. The end of isolationism vis-à-vis Cuba, however, is a part of a wider net of rebooting relations with erstwhile countries that the US had dubbed “rogue states”. For example, the nuclear deal with Iran is an indication towards this new middle-of-the-road thrust in American foreign policy. However, with the US House of Congress coming fully under Republican grasp, and the House of Senate running low on Democrats’ viability quotient, one will see only ruckus and obstructionism. With Republican Senator Marco Rubio, himself a Cuban-American, bluntly vowing to block the move in US legislatures, President Obama cannot expect to have an easy ride.
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