On July 1, President Obama and Secretary Kerry announced that the U.S. Congress had been notified of an agreement with the Government of Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen our embassies in Washington and Havana.
Discussions on the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries began shortly after the December 17, 2014 announcement by the White House of a change in the direction of U.S. policy towards Cuba. Earlier that month, President Obama and President Raul Castro agreed to restore a diplomatic relationship that had been severed in 1961, and to work towards re-establishment of diplomatic relations.
I was just a schoolboy in 1961, but I remember very well the closure of the U.S. embassy in Havana. Some five decades later as a U.S. ambassador who has previously served in Latin America, I could not be more pleased with the news that President Obama has opened the way toward normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations.
As Secretary Kerry has noted, the United States and Cuba will continue to have serious differences on issues such as democracy and human rights. However, there are areas in which we will now be able to expand cooperation including law enforcement, safe transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications, and migration. The reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba will also allow American diplomats to engage more broadly and effectively with the Cuban people. And finally, a fully-staffed embassy will be able to provide better assistance to U.S. citizens who travel to Cuba to visit family members or for other purposes.
The response to this new U.S. policy direction from partners throughout the region and around the globe, including here in Equatorial Guinea, has been overwhelmingly positive. Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy noted in his remarks at this year’s U.S. Embassy Independence Day reception here in Malabo that he hoped progress would continue toward strengthening ties between the United States and Cuba.
From the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, this policy shift has removed an obstacle from our discussions with hemispheric partners that had sometimes hindered discussions of broader priorities in the region. As a result of this new policy, we can now refocus on President Obama’s commitment to new and equal partnerships across the Americas. Together, we are working to realize a vision for the Americas in which countries share responsibilities, cooperate as equals, and advance common interests and values.
As President Obama said on July 1, “This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”