President Barack Obama today announced the end to over 50 years of non-diplomacy with Cuba, as well as an easing of both trade and travel restrictions. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 at the height of the Cold War.
While the Soviet Union has fallen, the trade embargo along with its onerous travel restrictions have survived.
“It is clear that decades of US isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House said in a statement. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.”
The US will establish an embassy in Havana in the coming months, expand travel for US citizens, increase the size of allowed remittances to Cuba, and expand certain commercial exports from the US.
The Treasury Department is also changing its regulations to increase US financial access to Cuba through the use of credit and debit cards.
The White House emphasized that its action will “increase people-to-people contact” between the two nations. The goal is to support Cuban civil society and increase the free flow of information in Cuba.
“Isolation has not worked,” the president said in an address announcing the new policy. “It’s time for a new approach.”
The president made clear that these changes will “not occur overnight.”
Congress will be required to act to fully lift the trade embargo and remove all travel restrictions. The trade embargo is codified into law and cannot be ended through executive action.
President Obama said that Pope Francis initiated the discussions between the two countries.
The Washington Post reports that two American prisoners and Cuban prisoners were exchanged as part of the deal.
“Cuba’s agreed to release Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned for five years, and an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset held for two decades. In exchange, U.S. officials released three Cuban nationals convicted of spying in 2001,” the Post says.