A few months ago, the US re-opened its Cuban Embassy and President Obama had just finished a historic state visit to the Island, the first by a US president in over 50 years. A full normalisation of ties seemed imminent.
The re-opening of embassies and other recent improvements in bilateral relations have resulted in the lifting of a myriad of financial and travel restrictions, including new finance talks and the restoration of direct commercial flights to Havana. However, the continued presence of the US trade embargo against the island state makes a full restoration of economic ties very difficult indeed.
In a major blow to any hope of further boosting tourism and increasing US investment in the once isolated isle, Obama recently confirmed that economic sanctions and the trade embargo, which has been in place for more than 50 years, would be extended for yet another year.
First imposed by President Kennedy on 3rd February 1962, the embargo has had a profound effect on the Cuban economy. In a report released last week, the Cuban government claimed the blockade has cost the country $4.7 billion over the last year and $753.7 billion over the last six decades.
The trade restrictions will now remain in place until at least 14th September 2017, a move which Obama claimed was ‘in the national interest of the United States’. This is despite appeals from both leaders earlier this year to have the embargo lifted.
In the end, it is the Republican-controlled US Congress that is likely to have the final say on when the restrictions will cease. Congressmen have, so far, rejected any proposal to ease or the lift them.
At Cuba’s recent launch of a new international campaign against the blockade, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez condemned the embargo as the ‘main cause of the [Cuban] economy’s problems’. He added that although Obama’s efforts to improve relations so far had been positive, the president possessed ‘broad executive latitude’ which could be used to improve the situation.
The blockade has also drawn widespread international condemnation, with the UN’s general assembly voting 191-2 in favour of a non-binding resolution condemning the embargo last year (only the US and Israel voted against).
Cuban and international governments are not the only parties pressing for change. US businesses and organisations wanting to increase investment in Cuba say they are stifled by the embargo and that business is nearly impossible as a result.
John Kauvlich, of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, claimed:
There are approximately 12 regulatory changes that the Obama administration can implement today which would have enormous impact upon opportunities for United States companies.
So far, Obama has refused to act further and congress remains reticent. Despite this, US economic involvement in Cuba is slowly increasing – mobile companies have signed roaming agreements and a hotel in Havana is under US management. On the business front, more than 100 US business delegations have visited the Cuban capital since 2014.
The challenge remains how to turn this positive action into direct collaboration and investment when the embargo poses a huge obstacle. In spite of the clearly stated good intentions, a solution is not yet apparent.