Why Cuba Turned

MEXICO CITY – The phone call between United States President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, followed by the exchange of an American prisoner for three Cuban intelligence agents detained in the US, marked the most important moment in the countries’ bilateral relationship in decades. Shortly afterward, the US and Cuba announced that they would begin the process of resuming full diplomatic ties.

At first sight, the agreement looks like a great victory for Cuba, with the US finally backing down from its attempt to isolate the communist island. The reality is somewhat more complicated.

For starters, this is not the end of the American trade embargo, which can be lifted only by the US Congress. Nor will relations be fully normalized; there will be embassies, but not ambassadors.

But there is no question that the agreement – brokered by the Vatican and Canada – is an important step forward. Travel to Havana for Americans who are not of Cuban descent will become easier. It will be possible to conduct bank transactions between the two countries. Some commercial issues will be settled. The US State Department will remove Cuba from the list of countries that it accuses of supporting terrorism.