Hundreds of Cubans gathered on Friday August 14 for the reopening of the United States embassy that had been shut down after hostility between the two nations for almost fifty years. This was a surprising moment in world history that nobody expected. Two countries that had shown extreme hostility toward one another for the past fifty years had finally made amends. During the ceremony, the same American Marines who took down the flag in 1961 presented a new flag for the embassy Friday. John Kerry was the first United States secretary general to step foot in Cuba for seventy years. This was not just a diplomatic move for America’s national interest, but a truly emotional one. The entire ceremony was an emotional one, not only for Cubans, but also for Americans. Kerry was even seen wiping his eyes at the end of his speech. This marked a symbolic and historic moment for the world. The reopening of the American embassy, although only the first step represents hope for a new era.
The move for improved relations between the two nations came after Raul Castro and President Obama agreed to restore ties last year. Kerry mentioned during his speech that he would continue to advocate for political change in Cuba including a true democracy where citizens would be free to choose their own leaders. He also argued that unless there was real change on the issues of freedom in Cuba, the economic embargo would not be lifted. However many in Cuba do not agree with the country’s policy of cooperation with America. There is a conflict between those trapped in Cuba’s 1920s socialist era, and those who are pushing toward modern progression. There are some Cubans who cannot forget their past and therefore oppose any form of modernization. Cuba’s history centers around its communist past. The cities themselves seems to be stuck in the early 1950s, with classic cars lining the city streets and jazz still reigns as the popular choice of music. Cuba lives for its pre-revolutionary glory days, it seems.
Fidel Castro was the figurehead for the socialist movement in Cuba. He overthrew the military dictatorship in 1959 and imposed communism in the country until 2008. Under Castro, Cuba allied with the Soviet Union during the Second World War and posed an imminent threat to the United States. In 1961, the United States CIA tried to overthrow Castro, using trained Cuban exiles, but failed miserably. The turning point of Cuban-American relations came in 1962, when it was discovered that Russians were building intermediate range missile sites in Cuba, which nearly caused a nuclear war between the United States and the USSR. As a result, Americans cut ties with Cuba and the two nations held hostilities since the beginning of the Cold War. While Castro may be viewed internationally as a dictator, it can be argued that his domestic policies actually improved life in Cuba. He improved education and healthcare and even drastically reduced racism throughout the country. He is admired for improving quality of life. However, he jailed political opposition and outlawed political freedoms.
It is clearly evident today that Cuba faces a dilemma of disposing its communist past, while trying to create a modern future. Some are vehemently opposed to restoring ties with the Americans because of the damage they have caused to the country. Kerry left his speech quoting that “the future of Cuba is for Cubans to shape.” It is now up to Cubans to leave their mark on the international stage.