Pope Francis sent the request to the political capitals of the nations, Havana and Washington, D.C. In turn, both nations responded surprisingly positively and willing to comply. In the request, Pope Francis strongly urged both nations to set aside their differences that began over half a century ago, with the goal of the global greater good in mind. The Pope also requested that the connection and good graces among Cubans and Americans be restored.
The first event that began the normalization process among the American and Cuban nations was a prisoner exchange. Cuba released imprisoned U.S. agent Alan Gross who had been captured since late 2009. Gross had been given a sentence of fifteen years in prison for aiding some divisions of the Cuban opposition, as part of work for the State Department to bring about change to the regime in Cuba. Cuba also released Rolando Trujillo Sarraff, another U.S. agent who had been imprisoned for almost twenty years, in addition to an estimated fifty more prisoners.
In exchange, Washington, D.C. released Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, and Gerardo Hernández, three Cuban agents that had been serving what were supposed to be life sentences since 1998. The three men were caught and captured by the U.S. as a result of them infiltrating groups of Cuban exiles associated with terrorist attacks on Cuba. This exchange did not happen quickly or easily, though; secret meetings of negotiation had been taking place for months. These prisoner exchanges were considered ones of historic importance, as the relationship between the American and Cuban nations was a sour one for a very long time.
The next item to be handled on the road to normalization was ending the all-too-outdated policy of isolationism towards Cuba. President Obama stated that continuing to follow an old policy of cruelty and isolation towards Cuba that dates back to the Cold War age by cutting them off from American practices altogether is counterproductive. The President also felt that this policy makes the U.S. appear weak and immature to the international community. The goal this policy was originally intended to meet was to overthrow the Cuban government. This effort was obviously not met, which lead to its eventual termination
The U.S. has been the sole country in the region of the Americas that lacks normal and civil relations with Cuba for quite some time now. The U.S. government has continuously been reprimanded by countries all over the globe for its sanctions on Cuba. One specific example of this castigation occurred in 2014. According to an article published by the United Nations’ website, for the twenty-third year in a row, one hundred and eighty eight countries voted against the U.S.’ sanctions on the Cuban nation. This vote took place at the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in 2014. The U.S.’ policy of isolationism clearly did not work in the way it was intended, which is why President Obama stated that it was time for a new and different approach. The lifting of the Cuban embargo is intended to establish normalcy between the American and Cuban nations, through civil diplomatic and trade relations.
Finally, as a result of ending the U.S.’ embargo on Cuba, peaceful and civil conversation between the two nations will be revived. In addition, President Obama’s petition to lawmakers to begin the relaxation and eventual termination of economic sanctions will commence. The formalization of the opening of an American embassy in Cuba’s capital took place in January of 2015. Also, according to Secretary of State John Kerry’s press statement regarding the announcement of the Cuba policy changes, Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Johnson will, “…lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks.” Both the American and Cuban nations have agreed upon amicably tackling issues such as immigration action, healthcare, the threat of terrorism, a common natural disaster relief policy, and drug trafficking.
Other perks of this new peaceful and diplomatic relationship include the U.S.’ relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens, the permission of U.S. citizens to import goods from Cuba that are priced at up to four hundred dollars, and the extension of the range of exportable goods as per the request of American business men and women. In addition, financial transactions between Americans and Cubans will be implemented and U.S. businesses will now be allowed to begin relations with Cubans.
Father Michael Cooper of Saint Leo University remarked, “Well, I’m in favor of it [the peace agreement between the U.S. and Cuba] and everything that Pope Francis is doing. I think this is just another example of the Catholic Christian faith not only being an in house church, but one that also works for human development and peace. I appreciate what Francis did and his acting as a leader of the world church. He is involved not only in religious commitment, but also touching on all of the key issues of the world. I actually have a Cuban friend that is planning on going back to Cuba to bury his uncle now that the embargo has been lifted.”
To clarify, American and Cuban relations officially went sour in January of 1961. Relations between the two nations had been deteriorating since Fidel Castro came to power in early 1959. United States’ officials began to fear that Castro’s regime was causing Cuba to become an entirely too anti-American nation, and therefore could not be trusted. Also, after Castro’s rise to power Cuba began to establish relations with the Soviet Union, signing a trade treaty with the USSR per Castro’s decision. Following this, President Eisenhower’s administration began to fund and train Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro and in response, Castro simply strengthened the socialistic and communistic qualities of Cuba. The United States then began to cut back on trade with the nation and finally severed any and all diplomatic ties with Cuba on January 3, 1961. This split symbolized that the U.S. was willing and able to take extreme measures to fight Fidel Castro’s regime, which U.S. officials worried was the beginning of the formation of a communistic enemy in the West.
Newfound peace between nations is always a good thing and only strengthens international unity. The world is stronger and more united because of Pope Francis, American and Cuban government officials, and everyone involved who helped make this peace agreement happen.