HAVANA TIMES — President Barack Obama asked the US Congress tonight in his State of the Union address, to begin working “this year” to end the embargo on Cuba in place for over half a century, reported dpa news.
“And this year Congress should start working to end the embargo,” said Obama, who also referred to the resumption of relations with Cuba announced last month after decades of lingering Cold War confrontation.
Despite the measures taken to resume relations by Obama, the law that codifies the embargo since 1961 can only be changed by Congress, with a strong Republican majority for the next two years.
“In Cuba we are ending a policy that had long since reached its expiration date. When what you’ve been doing for 50 years doesn’t work, it’s time to try something different,” said Obama.
“Our change in policy toward Cuba has the potential to wipe out a legacy of distrust in our hemisphere, remove false excuses for restrictions in Cuba, defend democratic values and extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” the president said.
“As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is a task of small steps,” he added, referring to the mediator role played by the pontiff in the rapprochement between the two countries.
“These small steps have brought new hope for the future in Cuba. And after years of imprisonment, we welcome Alan Gross home. Welcome home, Alan,” said Obama addressing Gross who was present as a special guest at the joint session of both houses of Congress.
Gross was released by Cuba this past December 17, after serving five out of his 15 year prison sentence for entering the country with sophisticated telecommunications devices prohibited by Cuban law.
His release and that of a Cuban spy who had worked for the CIA was offset by the release of three Cubans (of the Cuban Five) convicted of espionage in the United States. The exchange was part of the agreement between the two countries to start a new era.
The Republican majority in Congress, critical of the rapprochement saying that change in Cuba policy should not occur until there has been significant progress in respect for human rights and democracy on the island, invited dissident Jorge Luis Garcia “Antunez”, and Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in 2012 in a traffic accident whose family attributed responsibility to the Cuban government.
In addition, the Cuban Carlos Curbelo, a new Republican congressman from Florida and contrary to the approach of the administration regarding the island, was designated by his party to give the reply in Spanish to the president’s speech.