One year ago today, the United States resumed full diplomatic relations with Cuba, shocking the world and putting an end to more than five decades of silence rooted in Cold War hostility.
So, what’s changed? Well, not a whole lot.
Although the date marked the opening of embassies in both Washington, D.C., and Havana, a year later, the United States has still yet to name an Ambassador to fill the position despite the fact José Cabañas, a long-time member of Cuba’s Foreign Service, presented his credentials to President Obama to serve as the Cuban Ambassador to the United States in September 2015.
And while in recent months the United States has further eased travel and trade regulations allowing U.S. travelers to visit Cuba without first obtaining a special government license, many economic sanctions, including the Helms-Burton Act, remain in place with Congress looking unlikely to repeal them.
Some things have improved: airlines are now permitted to provide regular commercial service to Cuba, travelers are now able to use U.S. credit and debit cards and U.S. insurance companies are now authorized to cover health, life and travel insurance for individuals living in or visiting Cuba.
USA Today reported when the first trade deal was struck between the countries after New York-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute signed an agreement to bring a lung cancer vaccine to the United States for clinical trials. Quick on their heels, other American companies jumped at the opportunity to expand to the island as well, including such corporate giants as PepsiCo, NAPA Auto Parts, Carnival cruise lines and American Airlines.
But much remains the same.
A major point of contention between the United States and Cuban governments is the continuation of the Cuban Adjustment Act, also known as “wet foot, dry foot,” which allows any Cuban who merely touches American soil (dry foot) to legally stay and become a permanent resident while those intercepted still at sea (wet foot) are sent home.
The White House admits that decades of failed policy has led to strained relations, stating that at times, longstanding U.S. policy toward Cuba has “isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba.”
Government officials insist the policies were “rooted in the best of intentions” although Cuba, as in 1961, is still governed by the Castros and the Communist party.
“We are separated by 90 miles of water,” said President Obama. “But are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”