The restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba has triggered debate on how far normalization will go. Human rights fellow Mark P. Lagon tells DW why he doesn't expect dramatic changes to come fast.
DW: Why did President Obama push ahead with this now?
Mark P. Lagon:He feels that the Senate is shifting in power to a Republican majority and he wants to take a step in a direction that's of dialogue with an autocratic government. This is in line with some other politics he's pursued in the past; for example he also has an inclination to dialogue with the Iranians.
What are the chances that this rapprochement will go any further - seeing as the US House of Representatives and Senate will be dominated by Republicans soon, who may not be in favor of lifting the embargo?
This not cut entirely along partisan lines. One Republican senator, Jeffrey Flake of Arizona, for example, is a pure advocate of the free market and would welcome a lifting of the embargo. On the other hand, the top Democratic senator in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, would be dead set against lifting the embargo. The heart of the embargo remains codified in law and will require the Congress to make a change. The president has it wholly in his power to create diplomatic relations with Cuba and can affect the travel of Americans and some aspects of commerce. But the fundamental part of the embargo lies in the hands of Congress. I don't expect there to be a full embrace of lifting the embargo soon.
So how much of a change will the people in Cuba feel now?
That is not clear. I think that it is proper for the United States to focus its policy on improving political freedoms. I would hope that any increase in dialogue would be used to influence the Cuban government, which remains one of the most closed and repressive regimes in the world. But I believe that what stands in the way of choices of freedom and access to information for Cubans will remain the policies of their government. I think that any loosening of the embargo will still be limited by the Cuban government itself. For instance, the access to telecommunications and information technology will still be something I imagine the government of Cuba would severely limit - even if there was a liberalization of commercial exchange.
What does Cuban President Raul Castro stand to gain from this development?
Castro has pursued some limited economic reforms. But I think now he saw an opportunity to gain a public relations benefit from relatively little that he has changed. An American humanitarian worker who was in prison for many years was let go in exchange for three suspected Cuban spies. No fundamental change has been made by Raul Castro in the effort to control expression of dissent in society in general. He is gaining quite a lot without yet making much change.
Will there be benefits to the US economy?
I think American companies will look for opportunities, and I suspect they will be disappointed in the amount of money to be made. A full opening of the economy by policies of the Castro government is what would be necessary for real profit to be made. And I don't expect that to happen.
Do you see this as a first step for the regime in Cuba to come to an end?
I hope it is. Perhaps people in Cuba will get access to more information and freedom . But it is incumbent upon the United States to use a heightened diplomatic engagement with Cuba to press for basic freedoms there. This may give the Castro brothers a lifeline to continue in power and that would not be a good thing.
Human Rights fellow Mark P. Lagon is the incoming president of Freedom House, a non-profit US think-tank conducting research and advocacy of political freedom democracy and human rights.