An Important Step for American Integration

Latin American leaders greeted with surprise and excitement the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
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Among the events that have marked a new year full of optimism and undoubted importance in global history, is the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which will set a common agenda between the two countries, leading to a dismantling of a system of sanctions applied to Cuba for more than 50 years. It is also an unprecedented development opportunity for the island.

Latin American leaders greeted with surprise and excitement the resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. In fact, this was manifested by the presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, among others, through various opinions expressed in the media and at the summit of MERCOSUR held in Parana, Argentina, the day of the announcement. The advance of Obama and Castro reveals the will of the United States to mend relations with Latin America. Removing one of the main causes of tension in relations with Latin American states -- most of which viewed with disapproval the embargo and sanctions imposed on the island -- is a smart move to open the door to a new era of relations in all areas.

It is important not to underestimate the complexity of the case. It is easy to take one or another position without considering the reasons for the Cuban Revolution, or the measures taken by the United States against Cuba, taken in a historical consistency that has characterized the country from institutional, political, economic and ideological perspectives. In fact, there are positions among Cuban exiles themselves both for and against this historical approach, not to mention the complex scenario that must confront President Obama: a Congress dominated since January by a Republican majority that shall determine if the embargo on Cuba is loosened or removed; Senators and Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, in favor and against what happened.

But beyond the institutional tools and policy options before the two countries involved, this is a step that must be observed with optimism and it promises a new era in American integration, confirmed by Obama when he closed his speech by saying that "We are all American." It is an opportunity to address a new era of relations among the countries in the region, led by sincere dialogue and the pursuit of mutual interest.

The recognition by the United States of the failure of the foreign policy applied to Cuba and the start of a new bilateral relationship constitutes courageous acts worthy of imitation and commendation by Latin American countries and the international community. It is also an opportunity to set aside meaningless confrontations and prejudices.

This move represents a paradigm shift in inter-American relations, especially among Latin American countries and United States, currently undervalued. It means, in the words of former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, "relations between governments and peoples that do not exclude others because it progresses through its own path or a different political model."

A very important step toward American integration has been taken, but there is much still to do and rebuild. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century to today, there is a very different geopolitical composition to the one that characterized the second half of the twentieth century. With leaders like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia, to whom must be added similar leaderships in Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, Honduras, relations with the United States have deteriorated.

Thus, regional organizations alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS) were launched, whose progress and results have not been initially expected. Among them we can name the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA, 2004), originally promoted by Cuba and Venezuela, in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) promoted by the United States, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, 2008) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, 2010-2011) as new centers of inter-American integration, with marked distinction and independence from the Organization of American States (OAS), but without an advanced degree of supranational institutional development.

In this scenario, with the decision to rebuild relations with Cuba, the U.S. foreign policy aims to strengthen inter-American ties and not waste opportunities and space against other powers that have already marked their presence in the hemisphere, as China and the Russian Federation (Federation Russian).

Therefore, eliminating the main cause of deterioration in relations with the United States, the region is able to accompany this new phase, in order to contribute not only to economic, but also human, social, institutional, cultural and democratic development in Cuba and other Latin American States.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

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