Cuba and the US – how close can they get?

Published Monday, February 9, 2015

The US and Cuba have annoucned a normalisation of relations, but how close can they get? Will the US lift the economic embargo against Cuba or return Guantanamo Bay? Neither of these is currently under discussion but the US has already agreed to a range of measures to benefit individual Cubans and Americans, and the establishment of diplomatic relations is on the agenda. High level talks began in January and will continue in the coming months.

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In December 2014, after 18 months of secret negotiations, US President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro made simultaneous announcements in Washington and Havana on a ‘new course’ for US-Cuban relations. The US and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations and begin to dismantle the last pillar of the Cold War, in what has been called the ‘Cuban thaw’. Conditions for the new relationship included the release of Cuban and US prisoners. President Castro has now called for the return of the US base at Guantánamo Bay, an end to the US trade embargo on Cuba and compensation for economic damages caused by the embargo, before the two countries re-establish normal relations.

Although President Obama has already taken steps to normalise US relations with Cuba, he cannot lift the embargo without the approval of the US Congress. How far the new US Cuba policy can go if it doesn’t command majority support in Congress remains to be seen. Foreign policy is largely a Presidential responsibility but Congress passes and repeals primary legislation, which is an important part of the restrictions.

Commons Briefing papers SN07099

Authors: Vaughne Miller; Ben Smith

Topics: Latin America, North America

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