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Start of a new chapter

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The month of July is a very special one for the peoples of the neighbouring republics of Cuba and the United States of America. It is the month during which the American people celebrate their anniversary of independence, after a hard-fought revolutionary war against the former colonial power, the United Kingdom. The fourth of July, the date of the declaration of American independence, is very dear to all Americans.{{more}}

Next Monday, July 26, the people of Cuba celebrate an occasion, also dear to their hearts. It was on that date in 1953 when a group of young revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro, made a daring assault on the Moncada barracks, signalling the start of the Cuban Revolution, which triumphed in 1959.

Close neighbours as those countries are, relations between them have not always been smooth. Following Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1902, powerful US economic interests became dominant in Cuba and that country and its people remained subservient to American military and financial interests right up to the 1959 Revolution. The US supported a series of brutal military dictators to protect those interests, leading to bitterness in Cuba over US policy towards it.

After the triumph of the Revolution, Cuban government policies, especially nationalization of American investments, produced more tensions between the two countries and culminated with the break in relations between them and the imposition of a US embargo which has lasted for over half a century and is still in place.

This incongruous state of affairs between neighbouring countries, with not even diplomatic relations, became more and more out of place in a modern globalized world. But the influential anti-Cuban lobby continued to thwart all efforts to move to a more civil relationship. It has taken the courage of President Obama and reciprocal efforts on the part of the Raul Castro government in Cuba to begin to restore normality.

Yesterday, July 20, the Cuban embassy was reopened in Washington and next month, US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Havana and reopen the American embassy there. The peoples of Cuba and the USA are drawing closer together.

This is not to say that difficulties in US-Cuba relations have disappeared. Serious divisions remain and the continued existence of the US embargo, costing Cuba billions and severely inconveniencing its people, is the major stumbling block. But the bold step to reopen diplomatic relations is a move in the right direction and we support it unequivocally.

It opens a whole new era in US-Cuba relations and has tremendous implications for the rest of the hemisphere and the world. Caribbean countries have long called for this step and continue to press for the removal of the embargo. As we salute the vision and courage of President Obama, we need to impress upon the US administration the need for the embargo to end and for respect to be given to the sovereignty of all nations, irrespective of how one views the policies of their governments. It is truly a remarkable start to a new chapter.

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