Obama Announces New US Approach on Cuba

HAVANA TIMES — In a surprise announcement today US President Obama has taken sweeping steps to re-launch US relations with Cuba. Talks between Washington and Havana have actually been going on secretly in Canada for a year and a half with mediation assistance from Pope Francis.

We bring you below the White House press report on the specific measures taken by President Obama and portions of his speech delivered live.  Later today we will bring you the simultaneous speech made by Raul Castro regarding the changes in US policy.

Charting a New Course on Cuba

The Havana malecón seawall.

Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people.  We are separated by 90 miles of water, but brought together through the relationships between the two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent that live in the United States, and the 11 million Cubans who share similar hopes for a more positive future for Cuba.

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.  At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba.  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.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.  It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  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.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Today, we are renewing our leadership in the Americas.  We are choosing to cut loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future – for our national interests, for the American people, and for the Cuban people.

Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has taken steps aimed at supporting the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future.  Today, the President announced additional measures to end our outdated approach, and to promote more effectively change in Cuba that is consistent with U.S. support for the Cuban people and in line with U.S. national security interests.  Major elements of the President’s new approach include:

Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
  • In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.  As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
  • U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.
  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

  • The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce.   Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
  • Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society.
  • These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.

Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
  • Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.
  • The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.  Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons-

  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.

Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

  • The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector.  Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.  This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.

Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

  • Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

  • U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
  • The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
  • U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
  • These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.

Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

  • Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.  The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized.  This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  •  Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.

Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

  • U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.  In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.

Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

  • Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore.  The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
  • The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.  Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.

Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

  • President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.

Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms.  That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today.  The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.


32 thoughts on “Obama Announces New US Approach on Cuba

  • Begging, no. Asking politely? Happens every day.

  • LOL! That’s a good one, Brrr. People around the world are begging to live in the socialist paradise that is Cuba!

  • Cuba doesn’t allow it, because they can’t afford to be subsidizing everyone who wants to come there, and they want to keep Cuba for Cubans. It’s a slippery slope from allowing anyone in, to allowing them to buy property, to everything being foreign owned again.

    Letting us visit for short periods at a time is as close as it gets for now. If they were to let people retire there, maybe buy condo units in existing resort areas for instance, even that would have far more applicants than they could possibly take.

  • Why doesn’t Cuba allow immigrants to move to the island? You would think, with all that excellent free education and free healthcare and totally awesome food rationing that people would be lining up to move to Castro’s socialist paradise.

    I guess that explains all those rafts full of foreigners crossing the sea trying to get to Cuba.

  • Don’t be ridiculous. Cuba does not have open immigration. If you aren’t married to a Cuban or working for a company that is doing business in Cuba, the best you can do is a temporary visa. That I already do every year.

  • You can move to Cuba if you want. Nobody is stopping you. Progressive hypocrites the lot of you.

  • When the Berlin Wall fell, so did the Communist regime in East Germany. Are you also cheering for the impending collapse of the Communist regime in Cuba?

  • For two years, Obama called the Syrian dictator Bashir Assad “a reformer”. We can all see how well that worked out. Calling Raul a “reformer” won’t work either. It’s good to hear Obama call on the Cuban government to respect human rights. But I have no illusions that the Castros will make any changes in that area.

  • Please stop trying to defend the human rights abuses in Cuba by pointing out the failures in the US. Police violence against my brothers here in the US is disgusting and must be addressed. But, what goes on in Ferguson or New York does not excuse what is institutionally wrong in Cuba. By the way, Berta Solar was put in a chokehold but didn’t die from it. I guess the PNR are better at torture or just have weaker upper body strength.

  • The Cuban people did not chose the Castro dictatorship. The Castro dictatorship made that choice for them. Fidel cancelled the promised free democratic elections as soon as he got into power.

  • Un dia, lo voy a hacer. I just don’t like the climate. Sure do perfer the government though.

  • Was Berta Solar put in a choke hold and suffocated by a PNR ?
    I guess selling lose cigarettes is a more serious crime than working hand in hand with an agressive foreign state to subvert your government.

  • A few years back I commented how the Roman Catholic Church would be the conduit for settling differences with the US. I thought it would have been sooner but better now than later. I’m a very conservative businessman who is a staunch
    capitalist but a realist who believes that not everyone feels the same as I with regards to economics and political views. Cuba could one day be a very rich and prosperous country and now, with this announcement, that could happen within my lifetime. As family members within my circle who are married to the offspring of Cuban’s born in Cuba they hopefully can set up businesses in Cuba. This is a first step which I have been in favor of and applaud the decision. I’m certain this
    change will assist the Cuban people from both sides of the straits so bravo and
    thanks to Canada and the Vatican for their assistance.

  • Agreed. The issue is who makes the changes. As far as I can tell, the Castros have done nothing to allow more freedom in Cuba to merit these US changes…..so far.

  • The US has capitulated to tyrants in the name of peace in the past only to regret having made the concessions later. Even as recent as Putin when the US initiated a “restart” in US/Russian relations only to stand by to witness Putin’s invasion of Crimea is an example of how despots respond to negotiated agreements.

  • As much as the prisoner exchange really is a big deal, I can’t help but be cynical about the rest of it. I strongly suspect that Obama is doing this for show. He’s well aware that only congress can make the kinds of substantial changes he’s proposing. He also knows that the house is about to be filled with newly elected Republicans. He could just be doing all of this simply so that he can blame the Republicans when none of it comes to pass. I hope I’m wrong about that.

  • If they were allowed to, a lot of people would be lining up to move there.

  • This is Havana Times. Bitchin’ about the US is another blog.

  • Being in line with Latin America is a good thing to you? Really? OK, maybe Chile, but there is no economy in Latin America doing as well as we are. No reason to do anything that Latin America is doing if we want to improve the US.

  • If you think having a US embassy will bring back Cuba, you are naïve. As shocked as I am that we have capitulated to Castro demands, I realize that everything that is wrong with Cuba is still wrong and that Cuba won’t be “back” until the Castros make the changes that bring freedom to the Cuban people.

  • Not even a ‘pizca’ of hope for freedom for the Cuban people? Nothing? Really?

  • I have been in shock. But I am okay now. I realize that the buildings will still fall down and the toilet paper shortages will continue whether or not there is a US embassy in Havana. The real changes must come from Castro and only time will tell if Obama’s moves will encourage these needed changes or empower the Castros to delay them further.

  • Civil society? Cuba? Ask the Ladies in White how “civil” society is after last week’s International Human Rights Day arrests.

  • Gee,
    I thought that Moses would be all over this thread, spewing his normal cynicism.

    What’s the point of being a super-troll if you turn and run at such a historic moment?

  • Dan..why not move to Cuba?… yeah didn’t think so…

  • And at last freedom for the Cuban 5. Welcome home! Now lift the blockade!

  • A good first step in removing imperial punishment from a country that will not surrender its revolution to the capitalists.
    The embargo was intended to make life so miserable for all Cubans that they would overthrow their own revolution. ( read up on Under-Secretary of State Thomas Mallory who devised this strategy )
    The good news for the Empire and its intentions is that the embargo did indeed massively impoverish the entire population .
    The bad news for the Empire is that the tough, courageous 11 million Cubans who support their government/revolution/society overwhelmingly were and are capable of withstanding that imposed poverty and show no desire to exchange their revolution for going back to a worse form of dictatorship: that of the unelected dollar/peso that IS capitalism at its heart.
    The twelve categories under which U.S. citizens may now travel to Cuba are so broad that it should present no problem at all for most anyone to sign up for an educational or charitable works trip/vacation in Cuba .
    We can expect sanctions to continue especially after the foaming-at-the-mouth moron right wing radio entertainment complex has its say about these actions of this now OBVIOUSLY socialist, Kenyan-born, Islamist president.
    And don’t forget, if you’re a Mormon you must believe that Obama was given that dark skin by God to mark him as a descendent of the ( non-existent ) Cain who slew his ( also non-existent) brother (when he was) Abel .
    It’s STILL in the Book of Mormon because God wrote it on those LSD tablets that Joseph Smith took and you cannot say that God was an ignorant racist.
    It’s just not acceptable
    So Obama is inherently wicked and would kill his brother if he had one and he naturally loves all Communists .
    This bowing down to the Castro brothers is just what you would expect from one of those.
    I gotta stop watching Fox News.

  • Talks “will include strong support for human rights” ? Really ? So Washington will consider rectifying the extrajudial killing of Blacks by its police forces, spying on its citizens with the NSA, torturing detainees, killing kids with drones in far off lands ….. This is a great day. Or am I reading that wrong ?

  • I finally agree with Obama on something! I think this is long overdue. We should not punish the people of Cuba because of the type of government they have chosen. If they are governed as a civil society, then we should treat them as such. I think we should have gone further and opened the gates to general tourism as well.

  • I’m glad to see the last vestiges of the Cold War come to an end. I was glad to see the fall of the Berlin wall and I am also glad to see this failed Cold War policy come to an end. Welcome back Cuba! Viva Cuba!!!

  • I can go to my grave knowing this dark chapter is closed. Thank you Castro and Obama.

  • This is a policy change long overdue and will assist Cubans increase private sector business opportunities. A new president to succeed Raul has already been named and Cuba is ready for significant change. Our new policy puts us more in line with the rest of Latin America. Unfortunately the Republican congress will do all it can to stop these needed steps.

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