America, Cuba Seek To Normalize Relations

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U.S. President Barack Obama outlined some steps his administration will take to normalize full diplomatic relations with Cuba, in the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades.

Speaking from the White House on Wednesday, Obama said the “rigid” policy the U.S. has had toward Cuba over the past decades has had little effect.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation does not work,” he said, referring to the sanctions and travel bans the U.S. had imposed on Cuba.

As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana. He said that while profound differences remain between the two nations in such areas as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live with those differences “in a civilized manner.”

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.

The U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities. Tourist travel remains banned.

Such steps, Obama said, will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and use debit and credit on the island.

Licensed American travellers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. 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 U.S. 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. Secretary of State John Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The president also addressed the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, which was codified in legislation. He said he intends to engage Congress in serious debate about lifting the embargo in an effort to allow more resources to reach Cuban citizens.

“To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship,” Obama said.

((Sourced from CBC))

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