Credit for much of this reporting to Karen DeYoung and Brian Murphy December 17 at 1:37 PM
President Obama made history today, in a huge diplomatic success for the President. Obama, who also had the help of Pope Francis, recognized that the announcement culminated years of negotiations and efforts in this direction. People in Cuba, Miami and many Latin American nations applauded, cried, and celebrated when President Obama announced a normalization of relations with Cuba.
President Castro of Cuba simultaneously made the announcement to the Cuban people. This represents correction of a failed policy, that dates back to the Kennedy Administration. For years, enemies of the United States have used Cuba, to create problems for the United states at our very doorstep, and Obama’s move represents an earth changing move, that is enlightened and progressive.
It is a move for peace and communication. We at BootheGlobalPerspectives believe it has huge implications for travel, new business for American firms and Cuban firms, and for peaceful unification of Cuban people in the USA and Cuba. It marks the days of Miami being a headquarters of militant and immigrant Cubans, and a reunification of families. We will see new prosperity in Cuba and a growth in commerce, import and export in places such as Miami, Tampa, Houston, Beaumont and Havana. Tourism, labor exchanges, educational exchanges, new hotels and resorts, even investment by Americans for homes in Cuba could happen. Cuba has suffered economically, and the Cuban people see this as a chance for progress.
One thing is certain. We are neighbors with Cuba and it’s people. It is time we acted in peace as neighbors. As Castro of Cuba said: “We don’t have to agree on everything but we must act with friendship and respect”. Castro called for an end of economic sanctions on Cuba. Most informed experts believe the USA will move in that direction quickly. This is also a victory for Obama, in relation to Russia which made a multi decade point of sending economic aid and support to Cuba. While Russia’s economy is suffering and Russia is engaged in military expansion in the Crimea, Ukraine. The U.S. economy is expanding, more people than ever in the USA are working, and the USA is creating peaceful relations with it’s neighbors. The contrast between Russia an the USA is telling. In the meantime, American investors, corporations, hotel and travel industry leaders, all are eager to bring business and new development into Cuba. This deal could mean hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment flowing into Cuba and a huge source of new business and exports for American business.)
President Obama announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy with Cuba on Wednesday, moving to normalize relations with the island nation and tear down the last remaining pillar of the Cold War.
Under the new measures, the United States plans to reopen its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months, Obama said. Speaking from the White House, he declared that a half-century of isolation of the communist country “has not worked.”
“It’s time for a new approach,” he said.
Cuba agreed to release Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned for five years, on humanitarian grounds. The Cubans also released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset held for two decades and in exchange U.S. officials released three Cuban nationals convicted of spying in 200-1.
“What a blessing it is,” Gross said at a hastily arranged news conference in Washington. “Thank you President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.” Maryland resident, left Cuba aboard a bright blue and white U.S. aircraft Wednesday morning, with UNITED STATES in huge letters on the fuselage, accompanied by his wife and several members of Congress and arrived at Joint Base Andrews. The Cubans landed in Havana. The unidentified asset was flown separately to the United States.
Although Obama has the power to establish diplomatic relations, the move was the latest in a series of steps he has taken to use executive powers to circumvent legislative opposition — and one that drew a sharp reaction from GOP lawmakers.
In a hard-edged appraisal of U.S. policies, Obama also noted that decades of embargoes and isolation against Cuba failed to topple its communist system and at times spilled back against U.S. interests in the region.
“We do not believe we can keep doing the same thing over five decades and expect a different result,” he said.
Earlier, a White House statement said the U.S. stance against Cuba alienated Washington from “regional and international partners.”
Economic Impacts Hinted at by President Obama
President Barack Obama says his changes to U.S. policy with Cuba will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and to use their credit and debit cards in the country.
Obama also says that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people, so he’s significantly increasing the amount of money that people in the U.S. can send to them.Obama says increasing commerce and the flow of information will be good both for Americans and Cubans.
As Obama spoke, Castro addressed the Cuban people with promises of a new chapter in relations with Washington but also noted that there are hard issues to work through.
The U.S. embargo “continues to create economic damage to our country. It must stop,” Castro said.
“We recognize we have profound differences, especially in the areas of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign relations,” he said.
But he added the countries have to learn to live with their differences “in a civilized manner.” Across Havana, church bells rang as he spoke.
“In Havana, people listened raptly to Raul’s speech on the streets and gathered in hotel lobbies to watch Obama’s speech on TV. They burst into spontaneous applause at its conclusion,” said Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), who is on the island for meetings with Cuban officials.
The outreach does more than break down one of the enduring legacies of the Cold War. It also reverberates across many political frontiers where the standoff between Washington and Havana played a role — from snubs against the United States by Cuba’s Latin American allies to the hero’s welcome given then-President Fidel Castro during a visit to Tehran in 2001.
The final elements of the deal were cemented in a telephone conversation Tuesday between Obama and Raul Castro — the first direct communication between a U.S. and Cuban leader since relations were severed in January 1961. (BGP, This is consistent with President Obama’s philosophy that diplomacy and communication is an avenue to peace and progress)
Officials said the call followed secret channel talks begun in June last year between White House and Cuban officials in a series of meetings held in Canada. The final planning meeting was held in November at the Vatican, where officials said Pope Francis had been instrumental in facilitating agreement.
The issue of Cuban relations, and particularly Gross’s imprisonment, was discussed during Obama’s meeting with the pope in March. Francis subsequently made a personal appeal to both Obama and Castro in letters sent early this summer.
The Vatican “has been deeply involved in this whole negotiation with the prisoners and played a key role,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who was among a number of lawmakers meeting Gross on his arrival at Andrews.
Administration officials said that they did not expect a strongly negative public reaction to the moves, citing changes in the political sentiments of a new generation of Cuban Americans. Virtually all Latin American governments, including close U.S. allies, have long denounced the embargo and called for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.
But while church bells were ringing, and the Cuban people were celebrating, as expected the negative political opposition including many Republicans and Cuban American lawmakers were quick to denounce the move.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Obama’s actions “will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.” Menendez seemed to not want reconciliation, preferring a continuation of a decades long failed policy (BGP).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the announcement “just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.” (BGP, Marco Rubio has been recipient of Cuba expatriate contributions, and was instantly critisized by the press for his negative comments. Some said this means “adios” to Rubio as a viable Presidential candidate).
The deal reached is a major diplomatic victory for Castro, 83, who has said he will step down in 2018.
Since taking over in 2006 from his ailing older brother Fidel — now 88 and all but disappeared from public life — Castro has repeated an offer to engage in direct conversations with Obama “as equals,” saying any issue would on the table.
U.S. officials insisted that Gross’s release was on “humanitarian” grounds and separate from what they characterized as a prisoner exchange of intelligence assets.
But, at its core, the swap is the same deal Cuba has been offering for several years: to trade Gross for a group of imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents that Havana champions as “anti-terrorism” heroes. The spies were sent by Cuba in the 1990s to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups in Miami.
Havana’s ceaseless crusade to “Free the 5” — which included paid advertisements in American newspapers and giant billboards in U.S. cities — was always more than a propaganda campaign. For the Castros, it was personal. Two of the five prisoners had already served much of their terms in prison and been released to Havana.
The Justice Department said that Obama had commuted the remaining sentences of the three and that they had been delivered to Cuba by the U.S. Marshals Service.
After a series of hotel bombings in 1997 by anti-Castro militants targeting the island’s burgeoning tourism industry, Fidel Castro authorized Cuban officials to release information on the groups to U.S. investigators.
But the information the militants provided helped American law enforcement detect the presence of the spies, ultimately leading to their arrests in 1998 and subsequent U.S. prison convictions.
Fidel Castro was said to be personally anguished by the fate of the spies and burdened with guilt for having inadvertently contributed to their arrests.
After the last major upheaval in U.S.-Cuba relations — the all-out campaign to bring home child castaway Elian Gonzalez in 2000 — Fidel Castro and the Cuban government started a similar blitz on behalf of the spies. But they got little traction.
Taking Gross into custody in 2009 changed the equation. His arrest, for distributing computer equipment as part of a clandestine U.S. effort, put new pressure on the covert U.S. democracy-building programs that were an annoyance to the Cuban government.
More importantly, he would become Cuba’s bargaining chip.
Havana never charged Gross with espionage but instead convicted him for “crimes against the state” — essentially for trying to subvert the communist government and working for USAID programs that are illegal on the island.
Gross was sentenced to 15 years, and jailed at a military hospital, where his mental and physical health were said to be in steady decline. In recent months, he had refused medical care and diplomatic visits while threatening to take his own life.
At the news conference in Washington, Gross was missing several teeth, which he said he lost while in captivity.
Adam Goldman and Ed O’Keefe in Washington and Nick Miroff in San Diego contributed to this report, and Boothe Global Perspectives (BGP) made editorial comments at the beginning to introduce the article.
Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post. Brian Murphy joined the Post after more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has written three books. Ben Boothe, of Boothe Global Perspectives has reported and worked in 20 nations and published BootheGlobalPerspectives for 27 years.