Yesterday, President Obama announced that the United States will renew its relationship with Cuba by taking diplomatic steps to establish engagement.
The announcement brings a lot of discussion and debate about becoming involved with Cuba.
First, the deal provided for the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Gross was arrested by the Communist government in December of 2009 and arrived home in the U.S. yesterday.
In return for the release of Gross, the U.S. government released three Cuban spies who where arrested in 1998. They were part of the “Cuban Five” who were operating the “Wasp Network” in Florida, according to the Huffington Post. All five are now free in Cuba and have been welcomed back as heroes.
Additionally, Raul Castro agreed to begin the release of 53 political prisoners in Cuba now.
This has been the greatest change in U.S.-Cuban relations since January of 1961, when the two stopped diplomatic relations near the beginning of the Cold War.
The President stated that Secretary of State John Kerry will initiate discussions with Cuba and start the normalization process in order to begin to improve the human rights conditions and democratic reforms needed.
One goal is to establish a U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba.
The White House's updated policy is “to promote more effectively change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people and in line with U.S. national security interests.”
They will try to accomplish that through changes to the Department of the Treasury and Commerce. Travel and remittance policies will be included to empower the Cuban population and support a civil society in Cuba.
The policy states that 12 categories of Americans will be able to travel to Cuba. Among those include people traveling for family visits, journalistic activity and exportation, importation or transmission of information.
In order to spark the economy of Cuba, policy will expand commercial sales and exports of certain goods and services. Travelers will be able to purchase $400 worth of goods from Cuba, up to $100 of which can be used for tobacco and alcohol, including Cuban cigars. U.S. financial institutions will be permitted to do business in Cuba, and credit and debit cards will be available to purchase goods.
Rep. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz have voiced concerns over Cuba and its ties to terrorist activity. In order to fully understand whether Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, the President has instructed Secretary John Kerry to review whether Cuba is supporting international terrorism.
The United States will not block Cuba from participating in the Summit of the Americas, as they continuously have done over time.
The embargo that has been in place since October of 1960 will continue to stay in place. Removal requires an act of Congress. The embargo will continue to limit free market businesses from entering the crippled Cuban economy.
The White House will aim to continue to work on improving the lives of Cubans.
“The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials,” the White House stated.