Watch President Barack Obama’s full remarks on opening relations with Cuba.
Updated at noon EST | President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. is making historic changes in its dealings with Cuba, because decades of U.S. isolation of the communist nation have had little effect.
“It is clear that 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,” President Obama said from the White House. “Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect — today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.”
Cuban President Raul Castro made a simultaneous televised announcement about the breakthrough to his citizens.
Today’s announced changes to normalize relations with Cuba include:
- The State Department will start talks with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1961.
- Reestablish an embassy in Cuba’s capital Havana
- Work with Cuba on improving human rights and democratic reforms, along with issues such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking
- Travel restrictions will ease for all 12 existing categories: family visits, official government business, journalism, professional research, educational activities, religious activities, public performances and athletic competitions, support for Cuban people, humanitarian projects, private foundations and educational institutions, exchange of information, and certain export transactions. President Obama had lifted some travel restrictions between the two countries in 2013.
- Raise the level of money people can send to Cuban nationals from $500 to $2,000 per quarter, and donations for humanitarian efforts and private business development will no longer need a special license
- Expand commercial sales and exports from the U.S. of building materials, goods used by private sector entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for farmers
- Allow Americans to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined
- Allow U.S. financial institutions to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions to ease transactions
- Permit travelers in Cuba to use U.S. credit and debit cards
- Update communication devices, software, hardware and services in Cuba
- On sanctions, unblock accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba, permit U.S. participation in third-country meetings related to Cuba, and allow foreign vessels to enter the U.S. after engaging in humanitarian trade with Cuba
- Discuss maritime boundary issues with Cuban and Mexican governments, including in the Gulf of Mexico
- Review Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism
Pope Francis offered his “warm congratulations” to the United Stats and Cuba. The Vatican had hosted the two sides for meetings to bolster relations in October.
Earlier Wednesday came word that Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been held in prison for five years, and in exchange the U.S. freed three Cubans jailed in Florida on charges including conspiracy.