Obama's Cuba Initiative: Significance and Next Steps
Julia E. Sweig

Washington, DC—On January 15, 2015, Julia E. Sweig, the former director for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, briefed the WFPG on the recent changes in Cuba-American relations. She discussed the historic December 2014 announcement by Barack Obama and Raul Castro on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and the economic, social, and political ramifications of this decision. The event was moderated by WFPG President Patricia Ellis.

Sweig discussed the motivations and timing for the US decision. She suggested that one possible factor for Obama was historical legacy and another was the US’s desire to get back Alan Gross and other US political prisoners in Cuba. Another consideration was the embargo’s negative effect on the Latin American’s perception of the US. She explained that prior to 2013, the US did not see the correlation between thawing diplomatic relations and the release of prisoners.

The impact of this decision will affect both countries. The travel ban has essentially been lifted and Americans are now free to travel to Cuba. Under the agreement Americans can now send up to $2,000 to Cuba and use credit cards and insurance in Cuba. Business opportunities have also increased. Cuba has an advanced biotech, medical and scientific community and there is potential for the US to benefit greatly from this newfound relationship.

Cuba on the other hand with be drastically impacted by these changes. Cuba is already seeing an increase in access to phones and the Internet, but the ability of Americans to travel more freely will aid in unrestricted exchange of ideas, something important for the growth of democracy. Small businesses also anticipate and increase in foreign investment.

Sweig reiterated that change will not come overnight. She commented on the military outfit worn by Raul Castro during his announcement of opening relations with the US. In her opinion, this was a sign to the Cuban people that even though relations are opening up with the United States, the revolution is not over and Cuba is a long way from multiparty democracy. The political cultures in the US and Cuban need time to undue years of biases and regulatory barriers.


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Julia E. Sweig speaks to WFPG members
and guests about US-Cuba relations


WFPG Board Chair Ann Stock, Julia Sweig,
and WFPG President Patricia Ellis


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Patricia Ellis and Julia Sweig discuss Cuba


Patricia Ellis speaks with guests


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Ambassador Jadranka Negodić from the Embassy of
Bosnia and Herzegovina listens to the discussion


Shelly Myers of MSB Associates asks a question

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