President Barack Obama will end the U.S. isolation of Cuba that has persisted for more than a half century, initiating talks to resume diplomatic relations, opening a U.S. embassy in Havana and loosening trade and travel restrictions on the nation.
The steps effectively end an embargo that has been one of the most durable elements of U.S. foreign policy. Travelers will be able to use credit cards in Cuba and Americans will be able to legally bring home up to $100 in previously illegal Cuban cigars treasured by aficionados.
Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House at 12:01 p.m. Washington time, about the same time that Raul Castro is set to speak in Cuba. The two spoke yesterday about the deal, an administration official said.
“Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House said in a fact sheet e-mailed to reporters. “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”
The embargo is one of the last remnants of the Cold War, sacrosanct in U.S. domestic politics because of the influence of the Cuban-American exile community in Florida. Generational shifts have reduced support for the embargo, though Obama’s moves drew criticism from some Cuban-American lawmakers.
The White House announced the steps after Cuba released American Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds. Following high-level talks between the governments since the spring, the U.S. and Cuba also made a parallel prisoner exchange of three Cuban intelligence agents for a U.S. intelligence asset who has been imprisoned for more than 20 years, according to administration officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity before Obama speaks.
Cuba also agreed to release 53 people the U.S. considers political prisoners, some of whom have already been released, the officials said.
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