The embargo was already decades old in 1989 when Global Exchange took its first delegation of American citizens to Cuba. As Global Exchange board member Walter Turner recalls, “ I remember being on that delegation and sitting on the top floor of the Hotel Presidente discussing how to begin the process of ending the decades old U.S. blockade against Cuba.”
President Obama signaled the change to come last fall during his state of the union address, saying, “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” It has been (and continues to be) a far longer journey to end the blockade, normalize relations and secure the right of Americans to travel freely than any of us expected. But 26 years later, with a well-publicized handshake and the Obama Administration’s new stance that Cuba poses no “terrorist threat”, we sit on the edge of this monumental change.
For Cuba, there could be no thawing of relations until it was removed from the American “blacklist,” a constant source of humiliation for the island nation. Throughout the hemisphere, the US has been much criticized for its estrangement from Cuba, and it was hoped by the Obama Administration that an agreement could be reached before he headed to Panama for the Summit of the Americas. Three rounds of talks between the US State Department and Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ended in March leading to Tuesday’s decree by President Obama.
While Global Exchange —and other groups who have toiled in the trenches seeking justice for Cuban relations — applaud this important first step, we know there is so much more to do. As Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin pondered, “Hopefully, the ‘Interest Sections’ in both countries will be turned into embassies… But sadly, not much will change until the economic embargo is lifted. The president himself can make further changes by executive authority, but ultimately the lifting of the embargo must be done by Congress.”
As Felicia Gustin, a journalist with extensive experience in Cuba, points out, there is much to be gained by the people in both countries by lifting the embargo—it’s not just about tourism and access to cigars and rum.
Cuba has long led the U.S. in healthcare, access to education, poverty, disaster preparedness, and sustainability. Gustin adds, “It’s going to take pressure on Congress by those who will benefit most from normal relations — that is, the American people themselves — to bring about these changes.”
Building people-to-people ties is at the heart of Global Exchange’s mission at home and abroad. Global Exchange will continue to pressure for lifting the embargo, emphasize the need to return Guantanamo Bay back to the Cuban people, and push Congressional policy by taking people to Cuba to see what Cuba is truly about.
Travel with Global Exchange to Cuba and see a country rich with tradition and culture, and mark the moment considered the beginning of the Cuban Revolution – the July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks lead by Fidel Castro. The Movimiento 26 de Julio became the revolutionary movement which eventually toppled the Batista dictatorship.