After so many stops and starts in the ruptured, tortuous U.S.-Cuban relationship, it can be difficult at times to muster any hope for change. And so, as The Havana Note reports, “even after watching the historic handshake between President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro at the memorial for former President Nelson Mandela today, it would be easy enough to conclude that the handshake was just a handshake.
“Maybe it was a momentary stunt by a beleaguered White House eager to shake the media – even for a moment – off of our national conversation about the botched Obamacare rollout. Given this administration’s halting, almost fearful approach to Cuba policy for most of the last five years, it’s hard to imagine that this is the beginning of a real and intentional rapprochement.
“But it’s also been a long time coming. President Obama has long believed our policy to be a failure – he said as much during his 2004 run for the Senate. During his first campaign for president he famously expressed (and walked back, somewhat) a willingness to meet with President Raul Castro, and just months into office, Obama called for a “new beginning” with Cuba. Though Obama left most of the policies in place that he inherited, he has notably presided over an historic rebuilding of the Cuban and Cuban American communities’ ties – and in the process, winning nearly 50% of Cuban Americans’ votes in the 2012 presidential election.
“President Castro has similarly expressed a willingness to engage Obama, and specifically, he has suggested he would put “everything” on the table. And in the meantime, Castro has slowly but continuously presided over historic structural changes to the Cuban economy and society – changes he knows are necessary for Cuba, but which also happen to align with any honest assessment of U.S. interests.
“Throughout the Obama and Raul Castro administrations, U.S. and Cuban negotiators have made several attempts to return to the table on what appeared to be piecemeal, smaller issues that might have served to build confidence. But each attempt has so far faltered.
Even if this handshake heard round the world was just a stunt, it could give a shot in the arm to the players at the table now. Their presidents took a risk today, and so can they. The media, here at home and abroad, is now primed for a breakout moment. Can they deliver one?”