HAVANA._ It is obvious to many in both Cuba and the U.S. that, even following a reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the process of normalizing bilateral ties will be a long and difficult road.

Cuban authorities have warned that the main stumbling block is the economic, commercial, and financial blockade that Washington has enforced on the Caribbean nation for more than half a century, causing damages well over 1.1 trillion dollars.

According to experts, other outstanding issues such as the illegally occupied land in the east of the country by the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, and the U.S. radio and television broadcasts targeting Cuba and subversion will feature on the agenda for a long time.

The U.S. side wants to talk about compensation for companies and properties nationalized following the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959 – something Cuba has always been willing to do -, the free movement of their officials on the island, and other matters of interest to Washington.

Some experts have commented, however, that “normality” in ties between the two neighbors is progressing somewhat more swiftly in contacts between the peoples of both nations.

There are various examples that indicate increasing contacts between both sides of the Florida Straits, since the announcement last December 17 by Cuban president Raúl Castro and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, of their decision to restore bilateral diplomatic ties.

The numerous visits to Havana undertaken by Democrat and Republican Members of Congress are significant in this regard, the most recent of which was led by senator Patrick Leahy (D), pro tempore emeritus president of the upper chamber.

On his third trip to Cuba this year, Leahy was accompanied by colleague Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the highest ranking figure of his party on the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and by Dean Heller (R-Nevada).

Among other illustrious guests of the nation over recent months, to mention just a few political figures, Democrat minority leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, as leader of a large group of her colleagues, and that of New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, stand out.

Various specialist publications have referred to the increasing number of U.S. arrivals to Cuba during the first months of the year, even though tourism to the island is officially prohibited by the terms of the blockade.

Visitors are availing of measures announced by Obama last January that to some extent loosen these restrictions by granting 12 categories of general licenses to persons who do not require specific permits to travel to Cuba.

Equally both here and there, such tendencies are most obvious in the cultural sector where over recent months certain celebrities and other leading figures from different walks of life have visited the island.

U.S. media recently highlighted the presence of the Cuba “Entrevoces” choir, conducted by Digna Guerra, who successfully performed at the 2015 International Choir Festival at the University of Yale.

Students and professors from this prestigious U.S. academic institution attended the performance at the Morse Recital Hall auditorium. Entrevoces also performed at other New York venues and in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington.

Students of the Fernando Alonso National Ballet School of Cuba also brought their art to the U.S. city of Chicago, Illinois, where they danced a program combining interpretations of classical and neoclassical works in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

These are but a few examples of the degrees to which people from both the U.S and Cuba are advancing a normalization agenda – even if not yet sufficiently – that is in marked contrast to what is still pending in other sectors because of unilateral sanctions codified in U.S. Congressional law.

Amid this collage of current visits and contacts between broad sectors of people from both countries are more than 10 proposed legislative initiatives that favor the lifting of restrictions to normal ties.

There are also just as many, sponsored by the anti-Cuban extreme right that seek to sabotage the historic process of rapprochement between these neighboring states.

Nevertheless, as senator Leahy eloquently expressed during his stay in Cuba at the end of June, a profound consensus exists among his colleagues and the U.S. public at large that those who support links with Cuba and the lifting of the commercial, economic, and financial blockade will be triumphant.

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