As the Obama Administration celebrates its milestone agreement with the Castros to open a U.S. embassy in Havana, it is important to remember the magnitude of the obstacles that remain before relations between the two countries are fully normalized. Consider the statement put out yesterday by the Cuban government:
In order to normalize relations, it will … be indispensable for the United States Government to return to Cuba the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base; cease the radio and television broadcasts, which violate international regulations and are harmful to our sovereignty; stop the implementation of programs aimed at promoting internal subversion and destabilization and compensate the Cuban people for all the human and economic damages caused by the United States policies.
These radical demands are not new—the Castros released a nearly identical list of asks in January—but they are nonetheless a reminder that, despite the recent moves toward a rapprochement , the Cubans still want to keep the U.S. at arms-length. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last December, a full economic opening of Cuba could be devastating to the regime’s command-and-control economy. It is in the the Castros’ interest for relations between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize slowly, rather than all at once.
One interpretation is that the Castros are deliberately making outsized demands in order to make sure the normalization process does not proceed too quickly, in the interest of self-preservation. The opening of the embassy—far from the triumph that some of the President’s supporters crowed about— is just the beginning of what is sure to be a drawn-out diplomatic dance between the U.S. and its former Cold War adversary in the Caribbean.