Obama says U.S. will normalize relations with Cuba

President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday and declared an end to America's “outdated approach” to the communist island in a historic shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday and declared an end to America’s “outdated approach” to the communist island in a historic shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “It’s time for a new approach.”

As Obama spoke to Americans, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana, saying that while the two countries still have profound differences in areas such as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live together “in a civilized manner.”

Wednesday’s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba, including clandestine meetings in Canada and the Vatican and personal involvement from Pope Francis. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, and the swap of a Cuban who had spied for the U.S. for three Cubans jailed in Florida. Gross spoke with Obama from the plane carrying him back to the U.S.

Obama’s plans are sweeping: He aims to expand economic ties with Cuba, open an embassy in Havana, send high-ranking U.S. officials to visit and review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. also is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities. But tourist travel remains banned.

Obama’s action marked an abrupt use of U.S. executive authority. 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.

In a statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis “wishes to express his warm congratulations” for the efforts taken by Cuba and the U.S. “with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the news “very positive” and thanked the U.S. and Cuban presidents “for taking this very important step.”

Obama said Gross’ imprisonment had been a major obstacle in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said he looked forward to becoming the first U.S. secretary of state in 60 years to visit Cuba.

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. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.

The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror.

Obama said he continued to have serious concerns about Cuba’s human rights record but did not believe the current American policy toward the island was advancing efforts to change the government’s behaviour.

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” he said.

Some on Capitol Hill disagreed with his move.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the new U.S. policy would do nothing to address the issues of Cuba’s political system and human rights record.

“But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come,” Rubio said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that while he remains concerned about human rights and political freedom inside Cuba, “I support moving forward toward a new path with Cuba.”

U.S. officials said Cuba was taking some steps as part of the agreement to address its human rights issues, including freeing 53 political prisoners.

Cuba also released a non-American U.S. intelligence ‘asset’ along with Gross. Officials said the spy had been held for nearly 20 years and was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursed in recent decades. That includes convicted Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers and a group known as the Cuban Five.

The three Cubans released in exchange for the spy are part of the Cuban Five – a group of men who were part of the “Wasp Network” sent by Cuba’s then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S.

Two of the five were previously released after finishing their sentences.

Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship.

Bonnie Rubinstein, Gross’ sister, heard the news from a cousin, who saw it on television.

“We’re like screaming and jumping up and down,” she said in a brief telephone interview from her home in Texas.

Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Gross’ family has said he was in ailing health. His wife, Judy, said in a statement earlier this month that he had lost more than 100 pounds, could barely walk due to chronic pain and had lost much of the sight in his right eye.

He walked without assistance after he arrived back in the United States.

Just Posted

Coal mining in Rockies. CP photo
Alberta gov’t releases preliminary results from coal mining survey

The provincial government has released the initial results from its coal policy… Continue reading

House sales drop in northwestern B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward)
Central Alberta real estate continues its hot streak

793 residential units sold in central Alberta through April compared with 210 in 2020

A representative for the office of Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu says the new Red Deer drug treatment court is expected to be operational by the middle of 2022. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer drug treatment court expected to be up and running no later than mid-2022

The Government of Alberta expects the new Red Deer drug treatment court… Continue reading

Environment Canada says rain Tuesday evening will turn to snow. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Expect wet snow Tuesday night central Alberta

Heavy wet snow could accumlate with the potential for broken tree branches

FILE - In this Thursday, April 29, 2021 file photo, giant bucket-wheel excavators extract coal at the controversial Garzweiler surface coal mine near Jackerath, west Germany. A report by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 says immediate action is needed to reshape the world’s energy sector in order to meet ambitious climate goals by 2050. This includes ending investments in new coal mines, oil and gas wells. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
Energy agency: End new fossil fuel supply investments

IEA report sets out 400 steps to transform how energy is produced, transported and used

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

Sheffield United’s Daniel Jebbison celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Alex Pantling/Pool via AP
Canadian teenager Daniel Jebbison turns heads with Premier League goal

Jebbison, 17, is the youngest player in Premier League history to score on his first start in England’s top tier

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from “F9.” (Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
The blockbuster movie makes a comeback this summer

Last year, summer earnings were $176 million, down 96% from 2019

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, exile Tibetans use the Olympic Rings as a prop as they hold a street protest against the holding of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Dharmsala, India. Groups alleging human-rights abuses in China are calling for a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics, which is sure to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors, and sports federations. A coalition of activists representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others, issued a statement Monday, May 17, 2021 calling for the “full boycott,” eschewing lesser measures like “diplomatic boycotts" and negotiations with the IOC or China. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia, File)
AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

AP Exclusive: Full-blown boycott pushed for Beijing Olympics

Canada's Eric Lamaze riding Fine Lady 5 during the CP International competition at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Canada's most decorated show jumper has withdrawn from consideration for the Tokyo Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze withdraws from Tokyo short list

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse questions a foul call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday, April 26, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Nurse says it was the COVID-19 outbreak in March that spiked his team's chances for a post-season run.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O'Meara
Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Nurse faces a busy off-season, much busier if Canada qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Danielle Goyette speaks to reporters during a press conference in Toronto on Friday, November 10, 2017. Goyette has been named director of player development for the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and their American Hockey League affiliate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette together again on Toronto Maple Leafs staff

Most Read