Obama announces thawing of US-Cuba relations

President Barack Obama has announced an end to the deep, decades-long diplomatic freeze between Cuba and the US. Picture: AP

President Barack Obama has announced an end to the deep, decades-long diplomatic freeze between Cuba and the US. Picture: AP

Share this article
2
Have your say

PRESIDENT Barack Obama last night announced that the US would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years.

Mr Obama said the US would open an embassy in Havana and consider lifting the 1961 trade embargo brought in after the Communist government came to power.

The president said in a speech that he wanted to end a “rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born”.

He said: “Isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Cubans were told about the move in a rare TV address from President Raul Castro that was broadcast at the same time Mr Obama spoke.

As church bells rang out in Havana, Mr Castro made the unprecedented comment that “this decision deserves the respect and recognition from our country”.

The deal took 18 months of secret negotiations in Canada and the Vatican and was encouraged by a personal appeal from Pope Francis, US officials said.

CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN

Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning

• You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google +

It was sealed on Tuesday with a 45-minute phone call between Mr Obama and Mr Castro, the first such contact between the two countries in five decades.

Mr Obama made the announcement after American aid worker Alan Gross, 65, was freed on “humanitarian” grounds after five years in custody on espionage charges.

In exchange, the US freed the last three of the “Cuban Five” who were jailed in 2001 for spying after a controversial trial.

Cuba will also release 53 Cuban political prisoners, including an unnamed US intelligence agent who had been jailed for 20 years.

US officials said that under the changes Havana will be able to open an embassy in the US, and that Secretary of State John Kerry has been instructed to review Cuba’s place on the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list.

American tourists will be able to use bank cards whilst visiting Cuba and there will be an increase in remittances Cubans can send home to their families.

It will also be easier to get licences to trade in Cuba as Mr Obama said that he wanted a “serious debate about lifting the (trade) embargo”.

Mr Gross arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at lunchtime yesterday and was reportedly overcome with emotion when told he was in US airspace. He had been serving a 15-year sentence for taking banned telecommunications devices into Cuba in 2011 to set up an internet service for Cuban Jews.

He had been kept in a small room in a military hospital for 24 hours a day with two other Cuban political prisoners.

Mr Castro said the announcement “doesn’t mean that the main issues had been resolved” and that the trade blockade had to be lifted in order to “normalise relations”.

He said there were still “profound differences” between the two countries but he “reaffirmed our willingness to dialogue” on all issues.

SEE ALSO

Travel: Five days in Cuba

CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN

Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning

• You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google +

Back to the top of the page