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The US has moved to stop punishing Cuba after 50 yrs of harassment

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US President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as well as an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba, declaring an end to America’s “outdated approach” to the communist island in a historic shift that aims to bring an end to a half-century of Cold War enmity.

“Isolation has not worked,” Obama said in remarks from the White House. “It’s time for a new approach.”

As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana.

Obama and Castro spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes yesterday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the US and Cuba since 1961

Obama’s announcement marked an abrupt use of executive power. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding US economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.

This morning’s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the US and Cuba.

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a US spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida. Gross is an American spy sent in to disrupt Cuba economy.

Obama said Gross’ five-year imprisonment had been a “major obstacle” in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington earlier today, accompanied by his wife and a handful of US lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.

As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments.

The US is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official US government business and educational activities. Tourist travel remains banned.

Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the US with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined.

This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.

The US is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror.

Key events in U.S.-Cuba relations:
— Jan. 1, 1959: Fidel Castro’s rebels take power as dictator Fulgencio Batista flees Cuba. The United States soon recognizes the new government.

— June 1960: Relations begin to sour as Castro veers left. Cuba nationalizes U.S.-owned oil refineries after they refuse to process Soviet oil. Nearly all other US businesses are expropriated by October.

— October 1960: Start of US embargo: Washington bans exports to Cuba, other than food and medicine.

— Jan. 3, 1961: US breaks relations with Cuba and closes embassy.

— April 16, 1961: Castro declares Cuba a socialist state.

— April 17, 1961: U.S.-trained Cuban exiles stage the failed Bay of Pigs invasion aimed at toppling Castro. US intelligence agencies also stage repeated attempts over the years to kill the Cuban leader.

— Feb, 7, 1962: President John F. Kennedy expands embargo, banning almost all Cuban imports.

— October 1962: US blockade forces removal of Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba. US President John F. Kennedy agrees privately not to invade Cuba.

— April 1980: Mariel boatlift: Cuba says anyone can leave; some 125,000 Cubans flee, causing a refugee crisis for the United States.

— December 1991: Collapse of Soviet Union devastates Cuban economy.

— August 1994: Castro declares he will not stop Cubans trying to leave; some 40,000 take to sea heading for United States.

— Sept. 12, 1998: Five Cuban spies arrested in the United States. They are later convicted. Cuba mounts an international campaign to free them, saying they were defending island against U.S.-based terror attempts.

— July 31, 2006: Fidel Castro announces he has had operation, temporarily cedes power to brother Raul. Fidel resigns as president two years later.

— Dec. 3, 2009: USAID contractor Alan Gross arrested in Havana, stifling incipient efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba ties under President Barack Obama.

— Dec. 17, 2014: Gross freed and remaining members of Cuban Five spy ring freed as part of prisoner exchange.

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Comments from our readers

  • The pontiff played a vital role in the process which led to the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, it was revealed Wednesday. It was him who took the initiative and sent letters urging Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro to resolve “humanitarian questions”; resolve the release of political prisoners, including Alan Gross, and “initiate a new phase in relations” and later had the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October, which was moderated by Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, providing what the Vatican calls “its good offices to facilitate a constructive dialogue”.

    The Holy See has vowed to continue to offer support for initiatives on the part of both countries to strengthen bilateral relations and promote the wellbeing of their respective citizens.

    “[The Pope] knows the Cuban situation by heart,” Gianni La Bella, a professor of contemporary history and an expert in Latin American Catholicism, as well as a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a liberal Catholic group active in international affairs told The New York Times. “He visited when he was a cardinal and has a strong relationship with the archbishop of Havana, who is obviously a strategic player in this,” the scholar added.

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