HAVANA._Those who thought that the road to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the moves towards the normalization of bilateral ties might be smooth should review both the obstacles that have been overcome in recent months and those that still remain.

Many believed that the progress towards a new scenario between the two neighboring nations would meet very few pitfalls following the December 17 statements by Cuban president Raúl Castro and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on their decisions to restore ties and open embassies in both capitals.

The main stumbling block to normalization is of course the more than 50 year old economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. on Cuba, resulting in one trillion 112,534 million dollars in damages.

Among the progress that has been made since December, the recent removal of Cuba from a list of nations that Washington alleges sponsor terrorism stands out.

Those who thought that the road to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the moves towards the normalization of bilateral ties might be smooth should review both the obstacles that have been overcome in recent months and those that still remain.White House spokesman Jeff Rathke said that the requisite 45 day notification of Congress had expired and that the Secretary of State had decided to revoke the classification of Cuba as a state promoter of the scourge.

Although the Cuban government had never set this as a precondition for progress prior to the talks, it reiterated that the island should have never been on the list as the latter is politically motivated.

Another step in the right direction was the resumption of banking services to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, something seemingly routine for any diplomatic base mission but which, in this case, had become an almost insurmountable obstacle to overcome that had severely curtailed the delivery of normal services.

Cuban Foreign Ministry sources said that the progress on the reinstatement of such services has created an appropriate bilateral and regional context, within which advances towards the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies can occur.

More good news that has attracted plenty of media interest over recent months is that for the first time in more than 50 years, four U.S. operators have been licensed by the Federal Government to offer ferry services between the U.S. and Cuba.

The announcement was, however, diluted somewhat by accompanying bad news: even prior to their launch such services face serious obstacles, principally arising from the blockade.

The activities of the companies might also be severely limited by National Security, State Department and other federal agency restrictions.

What is certain is that these and other minor advances made could not have happened in the absence of the three rounds of talks held between January and May in both capitals, which the two sides described as professional and productive, despite the profound differences that exist.

These meetings between representatives of both countries have drawn the attention of leading U.S. business, culture, science and political figures, who have their sights set on medium and long term opportunities, but who are also very conscious of the harm caused to themselves by the unilateral sanctions imposed on Cuba.

Many legislators who have visited Cuba over the past weeks concur that bipartisan consensus in favor of the lifting of punitive measures exists.

Among them is the democrat Senator Tom Udall who said at a press conference at the end of his visit to Havana that a majority of the Foreign Relations Committee members – a key panel on this issue – now favors the lifting of unilateral sanctions.

Udall, from the State of New Mexico, particularly stressed the importance of eliminating travel restrictions on U.S. citizens and recognized that there remained much to be done on the road to normalization.

The Senator led a delegation of Democrat congress members, which included Senator Al Franken, of Minnesota, and representatives Raul M. Grijalva, of Arizona, and John Larson, of Connecticut, who visited the island in late May.

In unison with Republicans Jeff Flake and Mike Enzi and Democrat Dick Durban, senator Udall recently proposed a law that would encourage U.S. telecommunications companies to do business with Cuba.

The anti-Cuban right in Congress, which has not been sitting on its hands, are trying to form a strategy to sabotage this and other projects aimed at dismantling punitive measures against Cuba.

However, as those with legislative power reach agreement on these matters, Obama could make use of his broad executive powers – as the Cuban Foreign Ministry has reiterated – to undo most of the restrictions on Cuba that are enshrined in Congressional laws.

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