Ending a 54-year ban, the United States and Cuba have formally announced and recognized the openings of embassies in the capitals of each other's nations.
President Barack Obama announced the move this morning.
"More than 54 years ago at the height of the cold war, the United States closed its embassy in Havana. Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally reestablish diplomatic relations with the republic of Cuba and re-open embassies in our respective countries," the president said in a live announcement from the Rose Garden this morning.
"Nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight but I believe that American engagement through our embassy, our businesses and most of all through our people is the best way to advance our interests in support for democracy and human rights," Obama added.
The President has signaled a greater relationship with the Communist nation since the end of last year, when he became the first President to speak with Cuba’s leader, currently Raul Castro, since 1958. During that time, the two leaders spoke on the phone; they would later meet face to face at a global leaders’ meeting in Panama in April.
Just last month, Obama officially removed Cuba from America’s state sponsors of terrorism list, fueling criticism from some Republicans, Democrats and Cuban-Americans. Republican Presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, both Cuban-Americans, have stated they will not vote to fund an American embassy in Cuba based on the hostile nation’s human rights violations, among other issues.
According to the U.S. State Department, embassies are not recognized until flags are presented at each nation’s location.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who represents a district with a high Cuban-American population, believes that the President is working with Cuba for his own political gain, rather than for the people of Cuba and the United States.
“There was little doubt that the Obama administration would pursue its goal of opening an embassy in Cuba no matter the sad reality on the ground. Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping,” the congresswoman said.
Other members of Congress are working on bipartisan legislation to remove all travel bans so that Americans can visit Cuba in the near future. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have both sponsored legislation that will lift the current embargos to travel to Cuba, The Wall Street Journal reported.