“We will end an outdated approach that … has failed to advance our interests,” President Obama said in a televised address December 17 announcing a major shift in U.S. relations with Cuba.
The United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people, the president said, because decades of U.S. isolation from Cuba have failed to promote development of a democratic, prosperous, stable Cuba.
“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas,” Obama said.
Measures announced December 17 to promote change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people include re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and eventually opening an embassy in Havana.
The announcement came in the wake of the release of Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba for five years, and a U.S. intelligence agent who was imprisoned in Cuba for more than 15 years.
The United States plans to adjust regulations issued by the departments of Commerce and Treasury, particularly those affecting travel and remittances. The United States also will facilitate expanded travel under the 12 categories of travel to Cuba already authorized by U.S. law and plans to raise limits on remittances to Cuba from $500 to $2,000 per quarter (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist Party).
In addition, the United States intends to authorize expanded commercial sales and exports from the United States of certain goods and services. The United States also will allow American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba, and will facilitate authorized trade and financial transactions between the United States and Cuba.
New efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely, especially via telephone and Internet, will be a U.S. priority, the president said.
The United States plans to update the application of Cuba sanctions in other countries by allowing U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.
The United States will also pursue discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments on unresolved issue of maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.
Havana could soon host a new U.S. Embassy under policy changes announced by President Obama on December 17.
Other steps include initiating a review of Cuba’s designation by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism and addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama.
The United States maintains an unwavering commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society in Cuba, Obama said.
The United States will continue to press Cuba on issues related to democracy and human rights, the president stated. “But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”
The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States also supports the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The new U.S. Congress, which convenes in January, will need to address legislation that affects the U.S.-Cuban relationship.
The Obama administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba and will encourage reforms in its high-level engagement with Cuban officials, Obama said.
The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
In advance of the announcement, Obama spoke by telephone with Cuban President Raul Castro. It was the first conversation between U.S. and Cuban leaders in more than five decades.
At the same time as Obama made his announcement, Castro was making a similar address to the Cuban people. According to news reports, it triggered the pealing of church bells all over Cuba.
The shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba “comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas,” Obama said. “This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.”
The United States “will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future,” Obama said, calling on his fellow leaders in the Americas “to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.
“Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the