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Long road ahead

Uncertainties about the future are no reason for staying stuck to the past. The formal restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Cuba is no guarantee that the two countries will not continue to have serious differences on major issues. It is easy to predict that the differences will persist as long as Cuba remains a one-party dictatorship. Yet, the resumption of full diplomatic ties after five decades of estrangement and hostility is a historic step forward. If the increasingly strained relations between the US and Russia signal a new Cold War, the reopening of American and Cuban embassies in each other's capitals marks the end of the old Cold War. The road ahead for both Washington and Havana will be long and full of challenges. Many issues between the two sides will have to be resolved before they can fully trust each other. Thousands of Americans and Cuban exiles claim compensation for their property seized in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's revolution. Havana too seeks compensation for huge economic losses caused by decades of the trade embargo and by US-inspired acts of sabotage inside Cuba. Another thorny issue is Cuba's complaint about the US navy's base in Guantánamo Bay.

However, both sides must have been aware of the challenges ahead when they decided to end the estrangement. Washington must have realized that its trade embargo had been a failed policy. On Havana's part, there was growing acceptance of the fact that its closed system had only worsened the country's economic and other problems. Settling old financial and territorial claims may take years. But the success of the new diplomatic deal will depend largely on whether Cuba can open up its economic and political systems enough to earn the free world's confidence. Cuba's record of political repression and human rights abuses has long made it a pariah to the democratic world. That has to change significantly before Cuba is treated as a normal country. It would be naïve to expect Cuba to change its political system anytime soon. But it must stop persecuting people who campaign for some form of political pluralism and the right to oppose the existing system. The economic reforms that Raúl Castro introduced have been too inadequate to change things. Genuine reforms can attract badly-needed foreign investment. More important, a new economic deal can dramatically improve the quality of life for ordinary Cubans.

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