First Take: US-Cuba relations move into 21st century – USA TODAY

President Obama said the United States will reopen its embassy in Havana and end its “outdated approach” toward Cuba. He said freeing Alan Gross and another American prisoner has cleared the way for the landmark policy changes to take place.

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00:00 I’ve instructed secretary Kerry Ted immediately begin discussions with Cuba
00:04 to reestablished diplomatic relations that have been separate since January of
00:08 1961. Going forward the United States will reestablish an embassy in
00:13 combat. And high ranking officials will visit Cuba. After all these
00:20 fifty years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time
00:25 for a new approach. Second I’ve instructed secretary carried a review
00:30 Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. This review will
00:34 be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed
00:39 in the last several decades. At a time when we are
00:42 focused on threats from al-Qaeda. Eyesore. A nation that meets our
00:46 conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face the
00:50 sanction. Are. We are taking steps to increased travel commerce and
00:56 the flow of information to and from Cuba. This is fundamentally
01:01 about. Freedom and openness. And also expresses my belief in the
01:06 power of people to people engagement. With the changes I’m announcing
01:10 today it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba.
01:13 And Americans will be able the use American credit and debit
01:16 cards on the island. In the most significant changes in our
01:21 policy in more than fifty years. We will and an outdated
01:24 approach that. For decades has failed to advance our interests. And
01:29 instead. Will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through
01:34 these changes we intend to create more opportunities for the American
01:38 and Cuban people. And to get a new chapter. Among the
01:42 nations of the Americans. All I’ve been prepared to take additional
01:46 steps for some time. A major obstacles stood on our way.
01:51 The wrongful imprisonment in Cuba a US citizen and USA IDs
01:55 subcontractor. Alan gross for five years. Over many months my administration
02:01 has held discussions with Cuban government about Allen’s case and other
02:05 aspects of our relationship. His holiness Pope Francis issued a personal
02:10 appeal to me and to Cuba’s president pro Castro. Urging us
02:14 to resolve Alan’s case. And to address Cuba’s interest in the
02:18 release of three Cuban agents who’ve been jailed in the United
02:21 States for over fifteen years. Today Allen returned home. Reunited with
02:28 his scrambling at long last. Allen was released by the Cuban
02:32 government on humanitarian routes. Separately. In exchange for the three Cuban
02:38 agents Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents
02:42 that the United States has ever had in Cuba. And who
02:45 has been imprisoned for nearly two decades. This man whose sacrifices
02:51 been known only if you. Provided America with information that allowed
02:55 us to arrest the network of Cuban agents include a demand
02:59 transfer to Cuba today. As well as other spies in the
03:02 United States. This man is now safely on our shores. Having
03:08 recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country. I’m now
03:12 taking steps to place the interests of the people of both
03:15 countries at the heart of our policy.

MIAMI — Any American knows the key moments in the long, antagonistic history of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Fidel Castro’s revolution and turn to communism. The Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Missile Crisis.

But those moments illustrate just how long it’s been since there was any significant change in the relationship between the two countries. It’s stunning to consider that the last moments of major change were recorded in black and white. They’ve moved from high school political science classes to history lectures.

What we’ve seen over the 50 years that have passed since those days have been only small, incremental changes, the kinds that barely registered outside this Cuban-dominated city. President Carter opening an “interests section” in Havana in 1977. President George W. Bush restricting the already-limited travel opportunities for Americans to the island. President Obama reopening those travel channels after he took office. Even the 2008 transfer of power from Castro to his brother Raúl appeared to have little impact on the standoff.

That’s why Obama’s announcement Wednesday is so historic.

USA TODAY

Obama opens doors to Cuba after 53 years

The swap of American contractor Alan Gross and a U.S. intelligence operative for three Cubans jailed in the USA was big enough. But the president threw on top of that the re-establishment of formal diplomatic relations, a plan to open a full embassy in Havana and expanded opportunities for Americans to do business with, and in, Cuba.

As legend has it, President Kennedy was the last American to legally purchase Cuban cigars and smoke them on U.S. soil. Now you can bring some cigars and Cuban rum back with you on your direct flight from Havana to New York City.

The wisdom, and legality, of the president’s moves will be hotly debated in the years to come. But people on both sides of the debate recognize that we’ve entered a new world.

There are the hard-liners, who insist that maintaining the embargo on Cuba — which remains intact because it’s anchored in an act of Congress — is the only way to destroy the repressive regime.

“It is the biggest set of concessions that the United States has ever given to the Castro regime,” says Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

USA TODAY

Congressional critics vow to block Cuba action

USA TODAY

Congressional critics vow to block Cuba action

And there are the younger generations of Cuban Americans who feel that providing more resources and support to the Cuban people is the only way to topple the regime.

“This is the biggest change in 50 years,” says Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, a group that has pushed for more engagement with the Cuban people. “These are not concessions. They are expanding the flow of contacts and resources between American civil society and the Cuban people, which empowers them and puts them in a much stronger position to demand bigger changes on the island.”

However you view Obama’s move, whether you think it’s right or wrong, that it’ll strengthen the Castro brothers’ grip on the island or lead to their downfall, one thing is clear: it has finally moved U.S.-Cuba relations into the 21st century.

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