Cuba may soon be open again! After five decades of a failed policy that few could justify by any reasonable means, President Obama announced that it was time to move America in a new direction and begin to normalize relations with the island state. The bombshell announcement was made after months of secret negotiations between the Obama and Castro Administrations.
President Obama began his speech by telling the world that:
"Today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future, for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world,"
To kick start this new era of cooperation between the two countries, President Obama announced a prisoner swap that was negotiated between the Administration and the Castro regime. Cuba has released American Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned for the past five years on espionage charges, and an unknown American spy who was held for nearly 20 years. His name is not being released at this time. In exchange for the two prisoners, the United States has released three Cuban intelligence agents who were being held in the United States.
The prisoner swap between the two countries is just the beginning. President Obama announced that he is moving to reopen the American embassy in Cuba and begin high level diplomatic visits, including Secretary Kerry, to the country in the very near future. Those talks will be designed to begin the process of normalization between the two countries and eventually lead to full diplomatic relations for the first time in nearly sixty years.
Some of the other major developments in today's speech include:
*American banks will also be able to begin the process of conducting business with Cuban institutions
*Travel restrictions will begin to be eased and the Obama Administration will ease the embargo in whatever ways he can
*Secretary Kerry will conduct a review Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism
The President said he "believe[s] that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach
." This new approach of actually talking with the Government of a country that is a stones throw away from America is a welcome development for those who have been calling for a change in policy for quite some time now.
President Obama also had a response for those who will undoubtedly be upset with his Administration's decision to work with a communist country:
"Consider that for more than 35 years, we've had relations with China, a far larger country also governed by a communist party. Nearly two decades ago, we re-established relations with Vietnam where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation. "
Why is it acceptable for the American government to have full relations with a country that took thousands of Americans lives in the Vietnam War, but normalizing relations with a country we never actively fought is not? Why is it acceptable for the American government to have full relations with Communist China, but not acceptable to do so with a country that is one of our closest neighbors?
While this is all very positive news, we must remind ourselves that Congress plays an important role if we ever want to have full normalized relations with Cuba. President Obama welcomed their role and said that he "look[s] forward to engaging Congress in an honest debate on lifting this embargo." This may prove to be more difficult than many think considering there are many entrenched congressmen on both sides of the aisle who see no problem with continuing the embargo ad infinitum, but there are also many others who are ready to move American foreign policy into the 21st Century and take the steps needed to make that a reality. I hope the President is able to find representatives on both sides of the aisle who are ready and willing to work with him to end this outdated policy.
You can watch the President's full speech below: