President Barack Obama made a statement from the White House on Wednesday at noon following the announcement his administration is making a major shift in US policy towards Cuba.
“Neither the American or the Cuban people are well-served by a policy that’s rooted in events that took place before many of us were born,” Obama said.
Obama described the changes as the most “significant” to occur in America’s Cuba policy in decades. He summarized them by saying the country would begin to normalize relations with Cuba.
In a press conference call prior to the president’s speech, multiple senior administration officials detailed specific elements of the policy, which will involve resuming diplomatic relations between the two countries, working to remove Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terror, and an easing of travel and commercial restrictions.
Cuban President Raul Castro gave a speech of his own that was broadcast on state television and radio in that country at the same time as Obama’s address. Castro, who White House officials said discussed the deal with Obama in a phone call on Tuesday, praised the deal as “progress.”
“The progress we’ve made in recent exchanges, shows that we can find a solution to many problems,” said Castro, as translated by Business Insider.
Castro also said he was most concerned about reinstating telecommunications and travel between the two countries.
“I exhort the American government to remove these obstacles,” Castro said.
Relations between America and Cuba, which is located less than 100 miles south of Florida, began to deteriorate in 1959 following the revolution that brought the Communist regime of Castro’s brother, Fidel, to power. The US subsequently maintained an embargo against Cuba. Diplomatic relations were severed in 1961.
The Cuban government under both Castro brothers has been criticised by many opponents for its human rights record and repression of free speech. Obama acknowledged “there is a complicated history between the United States and Cuba. He stressed America still hopes to improve conditions “related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.”
However, Obama argued “isolation has not worked” and “it’s time for a new approach.”
“No other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions and it has had little effect,” said Obama, adding the Communist Party and the Castro family remain in power in Cuba.
Though Obama predicted increased engagement with the US would lead to improvements in Cuba, he noted he does not expect the policy shift will make a major impact immediately.
“I do not expect the changes I’m announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban policy overnight,” said Obama.
Still, Obama said the fact past US policy did not change the Cuban regime was proof a shift was needed.
“I do not think we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” explaned the president.
In his speech, Castro expressed hope the US and Cuba could begin to resolve disagreements in a different way.
“We should learn the art of living with our differences in a civilized mannner,” he said.
Obama and Castro both finished speaking moments ago. This post is being continuously updated.
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