Nikita Richardson
July 21, 2015 10:07 am

While it’s been an important year for the U.S. domestically, thanks to the massive strides in gay and civil rights and other issues, the U.S. has also been rapidly changing its image abroad, especially with regards to Cuba. After five decades of fissured diplomatic relations, economic sanctions, and other punitive policies, this year conversation between the nations opened up and on Monday embassies opened as well. As of yesterday, there is now a Cuban embassy open for business in Washington D.C, and an American embassy in Havana.

Late last year, President Obama formally announced that the strained relations between the U.S. and Cuba were outdated, a longstanding leftover of the Cold War era. And while changes have come in trickles — for instance, Carnival was recently granted permission to begin chartering cruises to the Caribbean island — Monday marked a momentous leap in this new direction, with the U.S. and Cuba both re-opening their embassies in each other’s respective nations for the first time since 1961.

“[It’s] a historic day,” said Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference held at the State Department yesterday. “A day for removing barriers.”

In the Cuban capital of Havana, said barriers came down as the six-story building that has held the so-called U.S. Interests Section under the supervision of Switzerland since 1977 became a U.S. embassy again, much to the relief of the hundreds of Cubans trying to connect with relatives and friends living in the States. On August 14, Secretary Kerry will officially mark the change when he arrives in Havana to raise the flag over the “newly”-minted embassy and become the first Secretary of State to visit the country in 70 years.

Still, as he noted in yesterday’s speech, these first tentative steps toward diplomacy will hardly solve the many — many — disagreements that currently stand between the U.S. and Cuba.

Cuba’s economy still lags under the weight of embargoes the U.S. Congress levied against the Caribbean nation decades ago while the Guantánamo Bay territory, which the U.S. has controlled since 1903 and has used to house one of the world’s most notorious criminal detention camps, remains far out of Cuba’s reach.

As for Cuba, the country still stands accused of supporting gross human rights violations (see: the January 2015 release of 53 political prisoners), limiting Internet access to its citizens, and, more often than not, closing itself off to outside influences. And don’t forget that Cuba remains, for all intents and purposes, a Communist country run by a member of the Castro family. That’s a fact that won’t be so easily circumvented or forgotten.

Even so, things are looking up.

“Although we can and must learn from the past,” concluded Secretary of State Kerry. “Nothing is more futile than trying to live in the past . . . our citizens benefit far more from policies that aim to shape a better future.”

Here, here.

[Image via Shutterstock]