Images from a historic moment in US-Cuban relations
After more than half a century of isolation, President Obama is dramatically shifting U.S. policy toward Cuba in a move that will end the Cold War-era conflict between the two countries.
America and Cuba announced on Wednesday that the two countries will immediately start discussions to normalize diplomatic relations, while the U.S. is easing restrictions on travel and trade. The change came after the Cuban government released Alan Gross, an American contractor who had been held in captivity for five years. Gross arrived back on American soil shortly before Obama addressed the nation.
“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” Obama said Wednesday afternoon. “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was working to provide internet connectivity to Cuba’s small Jewish population when he was imprisoned on espionage charges in 2009. His imprisonment was a key sticking point in relations with Cuba, which Obama came in to office hoping to ease tensions.
While the full U.S. embargo cannot be lifted without Congress, the administrative action is expected to be sweeping. And Obama said he looked forward to “engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”
In a televised address in Cuba, Castro urged the U.S. to go further and lift the embargo.
“We have agreed to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations,” Castro said. “This does not mean that the main aspects have been resolved – the economic embargo, financial and trade embargo that causes enormous human and economic [pain]. I call on the government of the United States to remove the obstacles that impede or restrict the links and the bonds among our peoples.”
Following his return, Gross addressed the media on Wednesday, thanking Obama, his family, lawmakers, and his legal team in securing his release. ”What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country,” he said.
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