The U.S. Embassy in Cuba Officially Opens for Business Today

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Photo: Andrew Harnik/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

At midnight, Cuba and the United States officially resumed diplomatic ties after a fractious hiatus that spanned 54 years. The moment went mostly unheralded; at the State Department, the Cuban flag reappeared at the building’s entrance, and the Cuban embassy in D.C. plans to raise a flag this afternoon. 

The big celebration is being saved for August 14, when John Kerry becomes the first secretary of State to visit Cuba since 1945. Then, the U.S. embassy in Havana will debut new shiny signs, and an American flag will be raised.

Although the two countries are now talking, plenty of unknowns remain in the relationship. It is not clear how quickly change might come to Cuba, or how quickly American goods could begin flooding the country. President Obama has asked Congress to end the trade embargo, but it’s not clear how much resistance lawmakers who oppose such a move might offer. Given the approaching presidential race, Republican candidates who have already taken issue with Cuba’s changing role in U.S. foreign policy are sure to loudly criticize any legislation.

Many Americans are beginning to plan vacations to Cuba, and the options for how to get there are sure to keep growing. Next year, Carnival plans to start offering cruises to Cuba. The company’s CEO told USA Today earlier this month, “All of our research suggests there is huge pent-up demand for the Cuba experience.”

The U.S. is also trying to figure out how to keep addressing potential human-rights abuses in the country. However, as Obama argued in December, his administration believes the best way to encourage more changes is to stop isolating Cuba from the rest of the world. 

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly — as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.