Swiss media have greeted the news of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba with unqualified praise for US President Barack Obama, describing the decision to normalise diplomatic relations as ‘historic and right’.
“The US may have dangerous enemies all over the world, but Cuba no longer counts among them,” Nicholas Richter writes from Washington for the TagesAnzeiger newspaper.
“By normalising relations between the two countries, Obama is only recognising the obvious – that the experiment of permanent isolation has failed.”
“December 17 is a date for the history books,” Richter added.
The Swiss foreign ministry issued a brief statement on Wednesday, saying that Switzerland “greets this historic step and congratulates both parties”.
Switzerland has a long record of serving as Protecting Power for the two countries, representing US interests in Cuba since 1961 and Cuban interests in the US since April 1, 1991.
In its editorial, Le Temps newspaper reminds us that many people saw Obama as a powerless president after his party’s recent defeat in the mid-term elections.
“The rapprochement with Cuba, on the contrary, signals the most audacious act of his presidency.”
And the paper goes further: “With Cuba, his decree on immigration and, perhaps tomorrow, an accord with nuclear Iran, he has proven that he could well be the ‘transformational’ president spoken about in 2008.”
The TagesAnzeiger also refers to the fresh wind in Obama’s sails. “That is the privilege of someone who only has two more years in the White House: he can finally do what he feels is right.”
Getting down to brass tacks, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) newspaper draws attention to the cigar question.
“In a background briefing about the thaw in Cuban-American relations between senior representatives of the Obama administration and journalists, the question was asked twice: Will American shops soon be able to sell Cuban cigars? The answer was – unfortunately – even the first time, clear: No.”
It is not within Obama’s power to lift the embargo; only Congress can do that. According to the NZZ, early reactions from Cuban exiles indicate that opposition to lifting the embargo could fall apart soon.
As Le Temps points out, this is possibly because, by normalizing relations and opening up to Cuba, Obama is “emptying it [the embargo] of substance”.
The NZZ, like the other Swiss broadsheets, judges the 53-year trade embargo against Cuba to have been a failure. “Contrary to what was hoped, the blockade strengthened the regime rather than weakened it and the boycott was finally just a nuisance for separated families, tourists and business people on both sides.”
The Tribune de Geneve newspaper gives some credit to the leadership of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, without whom things would not have moved forward.
The coming months will be decisive for the Caribbean island and its inhabitants, the Tribune de Geneva editorial declares, as the increase of all kinds of exchanges between the two countries will unleash the Cubans’ desire for change.
“It remains to be seen if the transition towards a more free and democratic regime will be able to proceed without too much damage, considering the flaws accumulated during more than a half a century of tropical communism.”
Cold War hangover
After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, the young Cuban leader denounced "Yankee imperialism" and developed ties with the Soviet Union.
The United States declared an embargo on most exports to Cuba in October 1960 and severed diplomatic relations in January 1961.
Three months later Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, just a day before the doomed, US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion meant to topple him.
After the hard-line Castro became ill in 2006, his brother, Raul, took charge of the nation located 143 kilometers off the southern coast of Florida.
Now Obama says he will ease economic and travel restrictions on Cuba and work with Congress to end the trade embargo.
This, after Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, and a Cuban who had spied for the US. In exchange, the US freed three Cubans jailed in Florida.end of infobox