Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations
The president outlined the steps the
United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to
normalize relations with Cuba.
WASHINGTON ― The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with
and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a
half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison
for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis,
who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl
Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of
hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the
island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.
will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance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 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.”
The surprise announcement represented a dramatic turning point in more than five decades of hostility born in the depths of the Cold War and yet frozen in time long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
a geopolitical flash point in a global struggle of ideology and power,
Cuba obsessed American leaders of a different era, who sponsored covert
schemes like the failed Bay of Pigs
operation in 1961 aimed at toppling Fidel Castro, the charismatic
revolutionary leader. A Soviet move to station nuclear missiles in Cuba
led to a 13-day showdown in 1962 and the most perilous moment of the nuclear era.
more recent years, the Cuban-American relationship faded in
significance yet remained 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 today, Cuba remains a powerful
touchstone in American politics, and critics characterized Mr. Obama’s diplomatic thaw as appeasement of the hemisphere’s leading dictatorship.
Obama has long expressed hope of transforming relations with the island
nation, an aspiration that remained untenable as long as Cuba held Alan P. Gross,
the American government contractor arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15
years in a Cuban prison. In agreeing to free him, Cuba cleared the way
for Mr. Obama to take a political risk with the last national election
of his presidency behind him.
Gross traveled on an American government plane back to the United
States late Wednesday morning, and the United States sent back three
Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. American
officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States
intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years,
and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was
released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”
addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances,
travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners
identified as political prisoners by the United States government.
Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place
for now, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about
lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.
“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s time for a new approach.”
critics of his new approach, he said he shares their commitment to
freedom. “The question is how we uphold that commitment,” he said. “I do
not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and
expect a different result.”
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual
interest for both nations,” he announced, emphasizing the release of
the three Cubans. “President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and
acknowledgment of our people.”
afterward did he 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.”
Castro acknowledged that Mr. Obama was easing the blockade through his
executive authority and called on the United States government to go
further to “remove the obstacles that impede or restrict the links
between our peoples, the families and the citizens of both our
Gross, accompanied by his wife, Judy, and three members of Congress,
landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington shortly before noon.
His sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, was “beyond ecstatic” at the news,
according to her husband, Harold. “We are extremely grateful that he’s
on his way home,” Mr. Rubinstein said by telephone from Dallas. “It’s
been a long ordeal.”
of State John Kerry landed at Andrews shortly afterward and met with
Mr. Gross, his wife, other members of his family and his lawyer, Scott
Gilbert. While the meeting was unplanned, a State Department
spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said it gave Mr. Kerry a chance to “express his
overwhelming happiness that Alan Gross is now free and reunited with his
family on American soil.”
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 have been treated were
“a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”
and a half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits
better judgment,” Mr. Gross said. “Two wrongs never make a right. This
is a game-changer, which I fully support.”
Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a son of Cuban immigrants
who may run for president in 2016, denounced the new policy as “another
concession to a tyranny” and a sign that Mr. Obama’s administration is
“willfully ignorant of the way the world truly works.”
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,” Mr.
Rubio said. “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.”