President Obama announced earlier today that he promised to end the way the United States currently deals with the country of Cuba, calling it “outdated.” In this news breaking declaration, he stated that he hopes to mend relations with the country, which have been halted for five decades now. Currently, trade and travel to Cuba is extremely restricted, but this may end if the changes take place. This comes following the release of American contractor Alan Gross, in exchange for three Cuban’s who were being held in a U.S. jail.
It has been reported that President Obama and Raul Castro spoke over the telephone on Tuesday for almost an hour. This is the first time, since 1959, that a United States president has had a conversation with a Cuban leader. The two are scheduled to meet at a summit in Panama in the spring.
Already, Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner has spoken out against the President’s plan, claiming he is making concessions to a dictator, Fidel Castro. USA Today also reported that Jeb Bush, the former governor of Texas and Republican hopeful for the 2016 Presidential race, has also vocalized his disagreement with forming any change in the Cuban American policy.
In 1960, during the Cold War, the United States cut its ties with Cuba and issued an embargo upon the country. Since then, there has been little done to mend the relations between the two nations. The President’s ambitious initiative hopes to loosen the travel restrictions from the United States, especially aimed at family members with the intention of reunification visits. American visitors who are lawfully allowed to travel to Cuba will be allowed to return to the U.S. with $400.00 in foreign goods, including tobacco and alcohol amounting to less than $100 per person. This means, there will be an end to the ban on Cuban cigars, at least to some degree. Further plans include the United States government establishing an American Embassy in Havana.
Movement toward this new policy began last spring when the President was involved in talks in Canada and at the Vatican. The Catholic Pope Francis has been instrumental in bringing forth this effort. In March he sent letters to both President Obama and Fidel Castro imploring both to consider a peace effort and end the fifty year rift that is only hurting both countries.
Since the embargo on Cuba was passed by Congress, it will be up to the politicians to remove it. It is a grand gesture for the President to take and it has been reported that the residents of Havana were celebrating the news today. What has yet to be seen is how far this new connection will be established and how it will affect thousands of Cuban nationals residing in the United States. Some were ordered removed or deported to Cuba, but are present in the U.S., under a stay-of-removal, due to the fact that Cuba would not accept the return of these individuals. This question will remain to be answered in the upcoming months.