Cuba | Cuba Resumes Diplomatic Relations with U.S.
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Cuba Resumes Diplomatic Relations with U.S.
The Cuban government freed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been in captivity for five years, on Dec. 17, 2014. Gross had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 after his effort to create a way to communicate outside of the Cuban government's control. The government cited humanitarian grounds as the reason for Gross' release.
In response to the prisoner release, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which includes opening an embassy in Havana. There hasn't been any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961. The prisoner release was part of a deal negotiated in secret over 18 months. Canada hosted most of the talks that led to the deal. Pope Francis also hosted a meeting at the Vatican to help with negotiations between the two countries.
Talks began in early 2015 between the two countries over how to restore diplomatic relations after five decades. Both sides made demands ahead of the talks. Cuba asked the U.S. to remove its name from a list of states that sponsor terrorism. The U.S. insisted that its diplomats should be allowed to work freely and meet with dissidents in Cuba. A second round of talks was scheduled for late Feb. to hammer out these issues and more. Meanwhile, reaction to the resumed relations with the U.S. has been mixed in Cuba. Some praised the move while others were skeptical.
With diplomatic relations restored, the ban for Americans traveling to Cuba was lifted. Before Dec. 2014, Americans could only travel to Cuba with permission from the U.S. State Department. After Dec. 2014, tourists from the U.S. still had to go as part of a religious, educational, and cultural group, but the travel ban being lifted made it easier in other ways for Americans visiting Cuba. Internet access, an embassy, and the use of credit cards were soon available for the first time to assist Americans while in Cuba. Also, the U.S. government began allowing Americans to bring small quantities of items back from Cuba, including cigars. Cuban cigar makers estimated that their sales would increase from $3 million to $6 million in 2015, due to the new rule.
President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. It was the first time the countries' leaders held a face-to-face meeting in more than 50 years. According to news reports, Obama and Castro vowed to open embassies in both countries. "Our governments will continue to have differences," Obama said. "At the same time, we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests."
In another step toward resuming full diplomatic relations, the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in May 2015. Of the decision, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke says in a statement, "While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba's policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation."
Cuba and the U.S. announced on July 1, 2015, that embassies would open in Washington D.C. and Havana. The U.S. Embassy in Havana was opened later that month. The reestablishment of embassies was another major step in rebuilding relations between the two countries.
In early Feb. 2016, another major step in relations between the two countries took place when plans for President Obama to visit Cuba were announced. The last and only president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Obama's historic visit occurred in March. Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro appeared at a news conference together at the Revolutionary Palace. While both were cordial, both presidents challenged the policies of each other's country. Obama criticized Cuba's policy on human rights, and Castro challenged the income gap in the U.S. and the country's failure to provide universal health care. In a speech at the Grand Theatre, where President Coolidge spoke nearly 90 years ago, Obama said, "I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas." He also said Castro "need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people ? and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders." Obama and his family attended a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team during their visit.