In concurrent addresses, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro separately announced a new foreign policy direction between the neighboring nations. For the first time since the 1960s, U.S. restrictions on trade, commerce and travel with the island nation will be relaxed.
In a release, the White House press secretary’s office said:
“With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
The new U.S. policy approach to Cuba includes:
- Re-established diplomatic relations conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry
- A U.S. Embassy in Havana
- A series of U.S.-Cuba migration talks to begin in January 2015 in Havana
- General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers between the U.S. and Cuba
- Cuban goods can now be imported to the U.S.
- Cuban businesses will accept U.S. credit and debit cards
- Discussions will start to define maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico
- The secretary of state will report on Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism within 6 months
According to The Washington Post, the announcement comes after years of secret negotiations and a prisoner swap. A U.S. contractor, Alan Gross, who was imprisoned in Cuba for 5 years, and an “unnamed U.S. intelligence asset” were exchanged for three Cuban nationals convicted of espionage in 2001.
The move invited sharp criticism from Cuban-American lawmakers like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio offered a statement, saying:
“I intend to use my role as incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s expense.”
Obama’s executive action to normalize relations with Cuba begs the question of whether or not Congress will follow suit or reinforce legal barriers between the two countries.
Image: The Algerian