WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.
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U.S. Frees Last of the ‘Cuban Five,’ Part of a 1990s Spy Ring DEC. 17, 2014 As Havana Celebrates Historic Shift, Economic and Political Hopes Rise DEC. 17, 2014 Taking Cuba Off the Blacklist Leaves Only North Korea as Cold War VestigeDEC. 17, 2014 Pope Francis Is Credited With a Crucial Role in U.S.-Cuba AgreementDEC. 17, 2014
The American Prisoner Alan Gross and Cuban-American RelationsDEC. 17, 2014
News Analysis: For Obama, More Audacity and Fulfillment of Languishing PromisesDEC. 17, 2014 “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
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Obama on Change to U.S.-Cuba RelationsObama on Change to U.S.-Cuba RelationsThe president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba.
. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. In doing so, Mr. Obama ventured into diplomatic territory where the last 10 presidents refused to go, and Republicans, along with a senior Democrat, quickly characterized the rapprochement with the Castro family as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship. Republican lawmakers who will take control of the Senate as well as the House next month made clear they would resist lifting the 54-year-old trade embargo.
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and son of Cuban immigrants. “All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power.”
For good or ill, the move represented a dramatic turning point in relations with an island that for generations has captivated and vexed its giant northern neighbor. From the 18th century, when successive presidents coveted it, Cuba loomed large in the American imagination long before Fidel Castro stormed from the mountains and seized power in 1959.
Students celebrated in Havana after news that Washington had released three Cuban spies in a prisoner exchange. Credit Roberto Morejon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Continue reading the main story But the relationship remained frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a thorn in the side of multiple presidents who waited for Mr. Castro’s demise and experienced false hope when he passed power to his brother, Raúl. Even as the United States built relations with Communist nations like China and Vietnam, Cuba remained one of just a few nations, along with Iran and North Korea, that had no formal ties with Washington.
Mr. Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with Cuba and relaxed some travel restrictions in 2011. But further moves remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross, an American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for trying to deliver satellite telephone equipment capable of cloaking connections to the Internet.
After winning re-election, Mr. Obama resolved to make Cuba a priority for his second term and authorized secret negotiations led by two aides, Benjamin J. Rhodes and Ricardo Zúñiga, who conducted nine meetings with Cuban counterparts starting in June 2013, most of them in Canada, which has ties with Havana.
Pope Francis encouraged the talks with letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro and had the Vatican host a meeting in October to finalize the terms of the deal. Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to seal the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct substantive contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years.
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How America’s Relationship With Cuba Will Change
Which travel and trade restrictions will be eased or eliminated.
OPEN Graphic On Wednesday morning, Mr. Gross walked out of a Cuban prison and boarded an American military plane that flew him to Washington, accompanied by his wife, Judy. While eating a corned beef sandwich on rye bread with mustard during the flight, Mr. Gross received a call from Mr. Obama. “He’s back where he belongs, in America with his family, home for Hanukkah,” Mr. Obama said later.
For its part, the United States sent back three imprisoned Cuban spies who were caught in 1998 and had become a cause célèbre for the Havana government. They were swapped for Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, according to a senior American official. Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, officials said, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds,” a distinction critics found unpersuasive.
The United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 Cubans identified as political prisoners by the United States. Although the embargo will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.
Mr. Castro spoke simultaneously on Cuban television, taking to the airwaves with no introduction and announcing that he had spoken by telephone with Mr. Obama on Tuesday.
Pope Francis played a vital role in the rapprochement. Credit Franco Origlia/Getty Images “We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations,” he declared, emphasizing the release of the three Cubans. “President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Only afterward did Mr. Castro mention the reopening of diplomatic relations. “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved,” he said. “The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.” But, he added, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”
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Mr. Obama is gambling that restoring ties with Cuba may no longer be politically unthinkable with the generational shift among Cuban-Americans, where many younger children of exiles are open to change. Nearly six in 10 Americans support re-establishing relations with Cuba, according to a New York Times poll conducted in October. Mr. Obama’s move had the support of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Human Rights Watch and major agricultural interests.
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Michael S24 minutes ago
What’s this erasing cold war hostility stuff? The embargo is still in place.
Shilee Meadows45 minutes ago
This president seems to use the long game very well and to his advantage. He never gave up on Ben Laden and the sanctions on Iran and Russia…
Michael Stavsen45 minutes ago
The idea of separation of powers was so that there should be checks and balances, precisely so that one part of the government cannot do as…
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At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Gross said he supported Mr. Obama’s move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, adding that his own ordeal and the injustice with which Cuban people had been treated were “a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”
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But leading Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, did not. In addition to Mr. Rubio, two other Republican potential candidates for president joined in the criticism. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a “very, very bad deal,” while former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it “undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.”
A leading Democrat agreed. “It is a fallacy that Cuba will reform just because the American president believes that if he extends his hand in peace, that the Castro brothers suddenly will unclench their fists,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Cuban-American.
While the United States has no embassy in Havana, there is a bare-bones facility called an interests section that can be upgraded, currently led by a diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will become the chargé d’affaires pending the nomination and confirmation of an ambassador.
Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, and the president announced that he would attend a regional Summit of the Americas next spring that Mr. Castro is also to attend. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month to talk about migration, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker may lead a commercial mission.
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Next in AmericasU.S. Frees Last of the ‘Cuban Five,’ Part of a 1990s Spy Ring
Close this panel 2074 CommentsShare your thoughts. All 2074Readers’ Picks 1353NYT Picks 38newestNYT Pick cwchilmark 16 hours ago Its nice to see not all of Obama’s foreign policy seems stuck in the 20th century. This strikes me as good for the American people and good for the Cuban people.
As with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and others throughout the world since the U.S. colonization of the Philippines in 1898, Fidel Castro knew that if the “leader of the free world” was opposed to his fellow country people’s freedom, he had to look elsewhere for support. That antidemocratic tragedy has occurred over and over again for over a century.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your historic attempt to establish normal diplomatic relations with the people of Cuba. It may be 50-plus years to late, but it i welcome by democracy-loving Americans and other people throughout the world.
FlagReply897RecommendShare this comment on FacebookShare this comment on TwitterNYT Pick winthropo muchachodurham, nc 15 hours ago I was born in 1950 in Miama (traditional pronunciation) Beach and grew up in Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve seen my parents come back from vacationing in Cuba when the dictator Batista was still in power and giving me the nickname that appears above; I’ve seen the Cuban Missle Crisis with portable missle launchers with missles afixed rolling down US 1 through Ft. Lauderdale towards Homested AFB; I’ve been through the drills at Bayview Elementary school where we were taught to “duck and cover” under our desks in case on a nuclear strike against Port Everglades; I’ve seen the children of Cuban professionals enter that elementary school speaking little or no English and welcomed with open arms; I’ve seen the boat people risking their lives to touch U.S. soil; and I’ve seen a small but politically powerful group of anti Castro Cubans in South Miami preventing the end of the boycott/embargo for generations, thanks to cowardly politicians, after the boycott/embargo had long ceased to have any meaning other than to prolong the suffering of the Cuban people.
Thank God we finally have some rationality and humanity towards our neighbors a mere 90 miles from our shores. God bless Cuba and the United States!
FlagReply1198RecommendShare this comment on FacebookShare this comment on TwitterNYT Pick Ecce HomoJackson Heights, NY 15 hours ago Statements like those issued by Senator Menendez and Senator Rubio are not at all helpful. Insisting that Alan Gross was “innocent” whereas the released Cubans were “spies” fails to rise above partisanship.
More than half a century ago, our government decided to try to undo the Cuban revolution by ostracizing Cuba politically and economically. It hasn’t worked, and there is no sign that it will ever work. On the contrary, our Cuban policy is opposed by most of the world.
It’s time for a different approach. If we can maintain normal political and economic relations with China despite their repressive regime, surely engaging with Cuba is worth a try.
That Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio would criticize his release is despicable.
Who cares if it was a fair deal or not, we have to move out of the 1960s.
Time to think about the future and not the past.
Amazing what can be accomplished when you do not have to run for re-election.
What a stunning addition to your legacy and to the moment, Mr President!
This is a great day for so many reasons. First, the release of Alan Gross will make his family whole again and allow him to heal after such a long and arduous ordeal. Secondly, having been to Cuba, and having had family live there, I have always felt that the best thing we could do for Cuba was to open an embassy and restore our relationship with Cuba. This will create trade and International support which every other country has been giving to Cuba for decades. I lived in Albania which reminds me of Cuba in many way and how the introduction of open relations always improves living conditions for the people. If we can forgive Viet Nam we can do the same for Cuba. The only battle I foresee is the Bacardi family reiterating the Helms-Burton law which requires complete repatriation of Bacardi’s loss when Castro took over the country and closed Bacardi’s operations. I also hope that the Cuban community can finally stand behind this decision. For all my issues I have with the President I voted for, I applaud this decision. Finally, I thank the Pope for his intervention in this matter. This is such a good step forward during a time when there is so much wrong happening around the world.
Pope Francis put Cuba on the agenda during his March 2014 meeting with Obama. Eight months later, we have diplomatic relations. What a global player Francis has become! Conservatives, don’t forget Pope Benedict XVI was vigorously opposed to the U.S. Embargo of Cuba. It is time for Americans to tell the Batista-dictatorship beneficiaries that their property claims are long past absurd.
You cannot accumulate great fortunes under the protection of a brutal dictatorship and then when that blows up, flee to a democratic nation to enforce your claims. Absurd!
Perhaps President Obama should now turn the administration of Guantanamo to the Cuban government, in an effort to bring to a close another sad chapter in our history.