December 17, 2014, was a historic day in the relations between the United States of America and Cuba. The day started with Cuba’s release of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, from a Cuban prison and his return to his home in the U.S. and of the similar release and return to the U.S. of an unnamed U.S. spy . Nearly simultaneously the U.S. released three Cuban spies from its prison..
President Obama’s Speech
At noon (EST) President Obama delivered a televised speech to the nation and the world about the U.S, and Cuba embarking on a new path of reconciliation. He opened with the bold proclamation,”Today the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba. After noting the prisoner exchanges, he said:
First. he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry “to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations” with an embassy in Havana. “Where we can advance shared interests, we will. . . . Where we disagree, we will raise those differences openly–as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.”
Second, the President had “instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism . . . to be guided by the facts and the law.”
Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.”
Fourth, the U.S. is “significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.” The U.S. is also facilitating “authorized transactions [with Cuba], . . including U.S. financial institutions opening accounts with their Cuban counterparts and increased U.S. exports as well as “increased telecommunications connections” with Cuba.
Fifth, the U.S. embargo against Cuba requires congressional action, and the President looks forward to “engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”
Sixth, the President also acknowledged that Cuba was releasing “a substantial number of prisoners” who had been jailed for political reasons, was increasing internet access to its citizens and its engagement with international institutions.
Nevertheless, the President acknowledged that there would not be “a transformation of Cuban society overnight.” He was convinced, however, “that through a policy of engagement we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the cuban people help themselves.”
Obama near the end of his speech said, “To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.” The U.S. “wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.”
Cuban President Raul Castro’s Speech
Nearly simultaneously Cuban President Raúl Castro made a televised speech to his country about the new path for Cuba and the U.S. After acknowledging the prisoner exchange and the release of some Cuban political dissidents from prison, he said the countries had “agreed to the restoration of diplomatic relations.” Unfortunately the U.S. embargo will not be ended immediately, but will be modified until Congress can enact a repeal.
The two countries will take mutual steps “to improve bilateral climate and move toward normalization of ties . . . based on the principles of international law and the [U.N.] Charter.” Cuba has also reaffirmed its willingness to discuss all issues of democracy, human rights and foreign policy. Cuba has urged the U.S. “to remove obstacles that prevent or restrict th e links between our peoples, families and citizens . . ., in particular those relating to travel, direct mail and telecommunications.”
“Progress in sustained exchanges show that it is possible to find solutions to many problems. . . . [W]e must learn the art of living, in a civilized manner, with our differences.”
These historic agreements raise many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts.