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December 18, 2014

U.S., Cuba re-establish diplomatic ties


President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba would “normalize” their relationship in a major change to U.S. diplomatic policy.

For the first time in decades, the U.S. will open an embassy in Havana, ease the trade embargo with Cuba, and allow travel for family, government and educational reasons.

The announcement was the culmination of a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba, which took place mainly in Canada and at the Vatican in Italy. It accompanied a U.S.-Cuba prisoner swap; the U.S. released three convicted spies, and Cuba released two Americans.

Obama also spoke by phone with Cuban President Raul Castro, in the first at-length discussion between a U.S. and Cuban president since 1961.

Relations between the two countries have been tense since 1959, when Fidel and Raul Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro established diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union in 1960, making Cuba a central site of Cold War-fueled power struggles between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

The U.S. began a trade embargo against Cuba in 1960 and mounted the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 in a failed attempt to remove Castro from power. Tensions further escalated in 1962, when the U.S. and Soviet Union came to the brink of war in a 13-day standoff over nuclear missiles that the Soviet Union had stationed on Cuba.

Some political leaders voiced opposition to the announcement.

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom—and not one second sooner,” House Speaker John Boehner said.

But Obama insisted that isolating Cuba was a mistake. The trade embargo “has had little effect, beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people,” Obama said.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Cuba?
  2. What are some characteristics of a communist government system? How is it different from a democratic country?
  3. Where do communist governments exist today?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What challenges might the United States and Cuba face during this rapprochement? Explain your answer and highlight the areas that you foresee being the most difficult.
  2. How do you think the troubled history between the two countries can be overcome?
  3. President Obama outlined the new diplomatic policy that would help to create a cordial relationship between Cuba and the U.S., see a few below:
    • Reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba
    • Reopen an U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba
    • Expand economic ties
    • Ease the ban on travel for family, government business and educational purposes.

    How do you think each specific point will help to move the U.S.-Cuban relationship in a positive direction?

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