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Cuba - US Relations - Obama

President Barack Obama embarked on three-day visit to Cuba on 20 March 2016, with the two nations moving to normalize their relations 55 years after they broke off ties. Obama, the first sitting US president to travel to Cuba in almost 90 years, would cap his visit with a direct address to the Cuban people, outlining his vision for the future US-Cuba relationship. The White House said Obama's televised speech in Havana on Tuesday 22 March 2016, represented a new beginning in the relationship between the former Cold War enemies.

Obamas policy staunch critics, who say the White House has given too many concessions to Cuba with nothing in return. They state conditions in the island remain unchanged and that repression has worsened. People are getting beat up, the Ladies in White, las Damas de Blanco, are getting beat up every Sunday," said Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation. "President Obamas visit is only going to legitimize the regime to the world, to the United States and to the poor oppressed Cuban people who are going to say: who has my back now?

Obama visited historic old Havana, while he participated in a bilateral meeting with President Raul Castro before attending a state dinner. Obama addressed Cuban people in a speech, and also met with US-backed activists before attending an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays. The White House said Obama wont meet with former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Despite the improving ties between Cuba and the US, Cuban President Raul Castro said he would not abandon the ideals that generations of Cubans have fought for. The normalization of relations between the two countries could have, in the long run, a devastating effect on the small island, with the flow of US dollars, investments, tourism and consumer goods.

Historians William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh actually emphasized in their book, Back Channel to Cuba, that since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, many US presidents attempted to normalize relations with Cuba, from John F. Kennedy's offering of an olive branch to Fidel Castro after the missile crisis, to Henry Kissinger's top secret quest for normalization.

On 20 July 2015, the US and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations by formally reopening their respective embassies in Havana, Cuba and Washington, D.C.; in effect by making their interests sections redesignated as embassies.

On 17 December 2014, the United States announced that it would begin talks with Cuba about normalizing relations between the two countries and opening an embassy in Havana, Cuba. The announcement followed the release of an American contractor who had been held in Cuba for five years, reportedly in exchange for the release by the United States of three Cuban nationals, part of the 'Cuban Five', jailed on espionage charges. Also released was a US intelligence agent who had been imprisoned in Cuba for approximately two decades and reported to have been instrumental in breaking the 'Cuban Five' spy ring.

Among other measures announced by President Obama:

  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance US national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.
  • Changes to US travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.
  • Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law
  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-
  • Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba
  • Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba
  • A review by the Secretary of State of Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, to culminate in a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba's support for international terrorism

On 17 July 2013, US and Cuban officials met in Washington to discuss the implementation of the 1994 and 1995 US-Cuba Migration Accords. This marked the first time since January 2011 that these periodic talks have been held. Under the Accords, both governments pledge to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. The United States accepts about 200,000 Cubans annually via legal immigration and also takes in those who manage to reach US shores. But under the wet foot, dry foot policy it turns back Cubans picked up at sea. The Cuban delegation reiterated that alien smuggling could not be eradicated nor a legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries could be achieved as long as the wet foot/dry foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which encourage illegal migration and irregular entries of Cuban citizens into the United States, remain in force. The meeting took place in a climate of respect.

On November 08, 2013 President Obama said it was time for the United States to revise its policies regarding Cuba. Speaking in Miami, Obama suggested change was coming, saying we have to be creative, and we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies on Cuba. Obama said it doesn't make sense that policies put in place more than 50 years ago would still be effective in the Internet age. The president pointed out that Cuban leader Fidel Castro came into power in 1961, the same year Obama was born.

But President Obama seemed unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress. He has withheld using his executive power since last easing Cuban travel restrictions in January 2011. Obama appeared unwilling to confront intense Republican opposition or alienate New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and Cuban-American who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a fervid supporter of the embargo. Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida was a 2016 Presidential hopeful, Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was a a Cuban-American from Florida and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

One important factor was the evolution of the Cuban diaspora living in the US, especially in the state of Florida. While the first wave of emigrants belonged to the Cuban intelligentsia and former dictator Battista's inner circles, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cubans emigrated for economic rather than political reasons, seeking better opportunities. They are more open to renewing relations with Cuba as a communist regime. The younger generation of Cubans living in the US were born in the United States, they have relatives in Cuba, and therefore supported a shift in policy because they wanted to visit them or send them money.

#CubaNow, a new 501(c)4 organization, announced its official launch 28 April 2014 in conjunction with an ad buy focused on President Obama, calling on him to take action on USCuba policy. The launch comes almost exactly five years to the day since President Obama first took steps to allow greater contact between Cuban-Americans and their friends and families in Cuba.

Obama announced the beginning of a normalization process in December 2014 ahead of the 7th Summit of the Americas, due four months later. An overwhelming majority of Latin American presidents had threatened to boycott the event if Cuba was excluded from participating one more time. Fearing a tremendous diplomatic failure, Obama's team decided to reach out to their Cuban counterparts in order to start negotiating the presence of Cuba at the summit, the first step toward a normalization of diplomatic relations.

US President Barack Obama, after a highly anticipated meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, said the two countries "are now in a position to move on a path toward the future." On April 10, 2015 the two met on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, shortly after their back-to-back addresses to other regional leaders. The two leaders' informal meeting was the first since Obama announced in December 2014 his intention to normalize relations with Havana. Obama acknowledged that deep and significant differences remain between the two countries.

US President Barack Obama said April 14, 2015 he intended to take communist Cuba off the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism, part of his effort to normalize relations with the island nation after five decades of hostilities. The American leader told Congress of his intention after a State Department review concluded that Cuba "has not provided any support for international terrorism" in the last six months, and it has given the US assurances that it does not intend to in the future.

The United States on May 29, 2015 dropped Cuba from a blacklist designating the communist country as a state sponsor of terrorism in another step toward the resumption of diplomatic links between the two nations after a five-decade standoff. The State Department said Cuba had not supported international terrorism in the last six months and had assured the United States that it wouldn't do so in the future the criteria for removing Cuba from the list.

The restoration of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba on 01 July 2015 sparked overwhelmingly positive reactions around the world, except in the United States, where opinions diverged widely. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, said in a statement, The Obama administration is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship.

Calling it "a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas", President Obama announced on 01 July 2015, that the United States had agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in their respective countries. US Secretary of State John Kerry, slated to travel to Cuba later that summer to take part in the formal reopening of the US Embassy in Havana, declared that "the resumption of full embassy activities will help us engage the Cuban Government more often and at a higher level, and it will also allow our diplomats to interact more frequently, and frankly more broadly and effectively, with the Cuban people".

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Havana 14 August 2015 to watch Marines hoist the US flag at the American Embassy, a move marking the ceremonial re-opening of the facility as part of broader US-Cuba re-engagement. Several issues from the half century of hostilities between the US and Cuba still remain, despite the re-opening of diplomatic ties. Much of the Cuban exile community in Florida, the closest US state to Cuba, opposes opening relations with the Castro government, as do many of Obama's Republican political opponents.

Because Cuba still appeared amazingly as it was in the 1950s, more Americans could soon see it just as the iconic, hard-drinking Hemingway did. Its not clear how many Americans have dreamed of strolling through Havana as Ernest Hemingway once did, sipping Cuba libres or daiquiris and driving a vintage car to Finca La Vigia, Hemingways home outside of town. This time-capsule effect could be a key drawing card for nostalgic retirees who want to hang out at the El Floridita bar, the birthplace of the daiquiri and Hemingways favorite watering hole (where his alleged record of drinking 15 extra-cold sugarless daiquiris in one sitting took place).





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