Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters A man hangs Cuban flags on a building near the U.S embassy (not pictured) in Havana, Cuba, August 11, 2015.
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A Cuban Conundrum

The Contradictions in Washington's Relations With Havana

At the new Cuban and U.S. embassies in Washington and Havana, the flags of each respective country are now waving in the muggy August air. On July 20, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez inaugurated the island’s restored diplomatic mission on northwest 16th Street by throwing a party and giving a speech. In a reciprocal affair on August 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the stars and stripes over Havana’s northern shore. Still recovering from a broken femur, Kerry passed on the chance to learn the guachineoan animated line dance that is the latest craze among Cuban youth.

With that same energy, American travelers, businessmen, and media impresarios have descended upon Cuba in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s partial loosening of travel and trade restrictions. Since 2009, Cuban Americans have been able to travel and send remittances fairly freely. Then, in 2011, the White House authorized U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for educational exchanges known as people-to-people tours. After December 17, 2014, when Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro declared their intention to restore diplomatic ties, outright tourism remained illegal, but it became even easier to visit. As a result, the number of U.S. travelers with no family on the island, visiting between January and July, jumped 54 percent over the same period last year. In turn, the momentum in Congress for fully repealing the U.S. embargo is steadily increasing.

A guard stands in front of the new Cuban embassy in Washington after officials raised the national flag in a ceremony, July 20, 2015.

But under the veneer of ceremonial good feeling, contradictions between and within the involved parties—in Washington, Havana, and the Cuban diaspora in Miami—have endured. Take the anti-embargo advocates in the United States. The new advocacy organization Engage Cuba has managed to bring diverse constituencies from the private sector, think tank community, and moderate Cuban America under its tent to push for fully open travel and commerce. Although

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