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Obama announces historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations

Obama announces historic shift in U.S.-Cuba relations

Posted by Juan Gavasa on December 17, 2014

Wednesday’s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba hosted mainly in Canada as well as at the Vatican. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

  • The U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital, Havana
  • The U.S. will ease travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities, but will not lift its ban on tourist travel
  • Licensed American travellers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined
  • The amount of money Americans can send to Cubans will increase from $500 to $2,000 every three months
  •  The U.S. will unfreeze the U.S. bank accounts of Cubans who no longer live in Cuba

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will launch a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror

DIPLOMACY: OBAMA, CASTRO MAKE A HISTORIC PHONE CALL

“Isolation has not worked,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “It’s time for a new approach.”

As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana.  Castro said profound differences remain between Cuba and the U.S. in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and questions of sovereignty. But the Cuban leader said the countries have to learn to live with their differences “in a civilized manner.”

A day earlier, Obama and Castro spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Obama’s announcement marked an abrupt use of executive power. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.

THE CANADIAN CONNECTION: OTTAWA WAS 'INDISPENSABLE'

Senior Obama administration officials say Canada was “indispensable” in hosting the majority of the secret talks.

They say the first face-to-face talks with the Cubans took place in Canada in June of last year, with several other discussions taking place since then. Canada did not take part in the talks, however.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement congratulating the two countries. “Canada supports a future for Cuba that fully embraces the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," the Prime Minister said. “Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks.”

THE VATICAN CONNECTION: POPE HAILS THAW IN RELATIONS

Pope Francis on Wednesday congratulated the United States and Cuba on their decision to establish diplomatic relations, and the Vatican said it was ready to support the strengthening of bilateral relations. In a statement, the Vatican also confirmed that its diplomats facilitated talks between the two countries, “resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties.”

It said the pope had written letters to Castro and Obama “and invited them to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties.”

PRISONER SWAP: SPIES AND CAPTIVES CHANGE HANDS

Alan Gross: Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community, access that bypassed local restrictions and monitoring. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. The Cuban Five: Three Cuban intelligence agents who had served 16 years in U.S. jails returned to Cuba on Wednesday as part of the prisoner exchange, Castro said. “Gerardo, Ramon and Antonio arrived in our homeland today,” he said of the three remaining members of the so-called Cuban Five, known mostly by their first names. They are Gerardo Hernandez, 49, Ramon Labañino, 51, and Antonio Guerrero, 56.

The unknown spy: Obama says the U.S. spy Cuba has released is one of the most important intelligence agents the U.S. has ever had in Cuba. The President says the man’s sacrifice is known only to a few people. But he says the spy provided the information that allowed the U.S. to arrest Cuban agents, including the three spies the U.S. is now releasing. Obama said the U.S. spy is now safely on American soil.

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