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Cold War Ends Between US and Cuba, Diplomatic Relations Restored

December 19, 2014



As U.S. eases hostilities, Cuba faces new challenge

By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:37pm EST

(Reuters) -

 For decades, it was Cuba's first response to criticism.

Poor economic performance? An obvious effect of a U.S. trade embargo that amounted to a blockade of the island nation by a bullying superpower.

Arrests of dissidents? A legitimate act of self-defense against mercenaries working for the world's richest nation, which backed the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and plots to assassinate revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.     

Now, though, with Washington agreeing to restore full diplomatic ties that were cut in the early 1960s, Cuba's communist government may not be able to blame its old Cold War nemesis so readily.

"The big bad wolf of Yankee imperialism is softening its teeth - so they won't have that ready-made scapegoat any more for things that are wrong on the island," said a Latin American diplomat who used to live in Cuba and still tracks events there.

Cuba has repeatedly sought to dispel the idea that it secretly wanted the embargo in place, saying if the Americans believed that they should challenge Cuba by lifting it.

With that now a greater possibility, however, there are risks.

Latin American countries and others that supported Cuba in its long battle against the United States may become less tolerant of its one-party rule, repression of dissidents and strict controls over the economy and the media if the U.S. threat disappears.

"There wouldn't be any justification that we're in a state of war because the Americans are constantly attacking us. They won't be able to justify it, at least not to their friends," said Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), Cuba's largest dissident organization.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear he expects improved human rights in Cuba as part of the deal to restore full relations. The U.S. government called it "a critical focus of our increased engagement."

The rapprochement announced on Wednesday included a prisoner swap -- U.S. citizen Alan Gross and a Cuban who spied for the United States were freed in exchange for three Cuban agents who were serving time in U.S. prison.

A U.S. official said Cuba also released 53 people deemed by Washington to be political prisoners.

Still, the deal refocuses attention on Cuba's human rights record as its critics accuse Obama of giving up too much for the return of Gross, who the U.S. government insisted was innocent.

Cuba has released most of its political prisoners, with Amnesty International putting the number in single digits and UNPACU saying it is between 90 and 100.

Instead, the government detains dissidents for several hours or days at a time, as it did in public demonstrations at a busy Havana square on Dec. 10, rounding up dozens who responded to a call to protest by the opposition group Ladies in White.


President Raul Castro, 83, has pushed through market-style economic reforms since taking over from his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008.

On the day he took office, he said Cubans should not use the embargo as an excuse for perennial shortages and economic hardship and he poked fun at the blame game in a 2010 appearance before parliament.

But his reforms are slow-moving and he has said the wider goal is to strengthen Cuban socialism, not weaken it.

So it was no surprise that even when announcing the U.S.-Cuban political breakthrough, simultaneously with President Barack Obama in separate speeches, Castro also reminded the world the sanctions were still in place.

"This doesn't mean the main problem is resolved," he said. "The economic, commercial and financial blockade that causes our nation massive human and economic damage must stop."

Cuba estimates the sanctions have cost its economy about $117 billion in lost trade and extra costs, including nearly $4 billion in the most recent annual estimate.

Critics say Cuba exaggerates the costs and has found commercial work-arounds with friendlier nations but the impact of not trading directly with the United States has been huge - from lost sales of sugar and other products to the inability to import cheap medicines.

Obama can significantly weaken the U.S. sanctions with executive authority and the White House has said it hopes the U.S. Congress will formally lift the embargo before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

The United States and Cuba have accused each other of sabotaging previous efforts at closer ties but all signs indicate Cuba would welcome a controlled flow of U.S. investment, especially with its main foreign ally Venezuela suffering from economic disarray.

Castro will almost certainly look to control the pace of economic change rather than allow a surge of U.S. influence into Cuba and opponents say they expect the government to find new reasons to justify tight communist control.

"If they no longer have the excuse of the ferocious wolf, they'll always find others," said former Cuban dissident Ohalys Victore, who left the island in 2002 and now sells life insurance in Arizona.

As part of Obama's policy change, Washington is allowing U.S. telecoms providers to offer services in Cuba - a potential boost to the slowest internet in the Americas but perhaps not immediately welcome in a tightly-controlled society.

"That potentially shifts the onus onto the Cuban government if they can't expand internet access," said Antoni Kapcia, a Cuba expert at Nottingham University in England, saying justification for internet under-development would be harder.

"They may have lost that bit of an alibi."

(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Editing by Kieran Murray)


Obama announces new Cuba policy in move to normalize relations

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) --

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced a historical, new policy toward Cuba, in a move to normalize relations and end more than five decades of estrangement between the two countries.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama said in an address at the White House. "Instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."

Obama said he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to initiate talks with Cuba on restoring diplomatic relations with the island country, which were severed in January 1961, and to review Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. He added that the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana, the Cuban capital, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

The U.S. is also taking steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba, said Obama, adding that he also looked forward to engaging Congress in discussion about lifting the embargo the U.S. has imposed on Cuba.

These changes will "begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas," and move beyond "a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born," the U.S. president said.

Wednesday's announcement came after Obama spoke with Cuban leader Raul Castro by telephone Tuesday, the first direct contact between the leaders of the two nations in more than 50 years.

Earlier Wednesday, Cuba released Alan Gross, an American subcontractor it had held in captivity in five years on humanitarian grounds. Obama said Gross's imprisonment had been the obstacle for the U.S. to make major policy changes toward Cuba.

Gross's release was the result of months' discussion between the two governments, said Obama, adding that Pope Francis issued a personal appeal urging leaders of the two countries to resolve the case.

On Wednesday, Cuba also released an important U.S. intelligence agent who has been imprisoned for twenty years.

In the address, Obama admitted that more than 50 years of isolation policy on Cuba "has not worked," saying that "it's time for a new approach."

"Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future," he added.

Raul Castro says Cuba, U.S. have agreed to restore diplomatic relations   2014-12-18 03:32:37

The TV grab taken on Dec. 17, 2014 shows Cuban leader Raul Castro giving a televised speech in Havana, capital of Cuba. Cuban leader Raul Castro confirmed here Wednesday in a special TV appearance that his government and the Obama Administration of the United States had agreed to reestablish the diplomatic relations between the two countries. (Xinhua/Liu Bin)

for more photos>>

HAVANA, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Cuban leader Raul Castro confirmed here Wednesday in a special TV appearance that his government and the Obama Administration of the United States had agreed to reestablish the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In a historic TV broadcast timed to coincide with a similar address delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. , Castro also insisted differences between the United States and Cuba should be resolved through "negotiation," stressing Cuba will defend its main principles.

"We have agreed to restore diplomatic ties, though that doesn't mean the main issue, which is the economic, trade and financial blockade, which causes major damage and must cease, has been resolved," said Castro.

Castro also said that he and President Obama had a phone conversation Tuesday, discussing and addressing measures aiming to normalize the bilateral ties, and the proposals fully conform with the international law, the human rights and the Charter of the United Nations.

The Cuban leader called for an end to the economic, financial and trade blockade imposed by Washington against Havana since 1962, one year after the ties between the United States and Cuba were severed, urging President Obama to exercise his power to change U. S. embargo resolutions against Cuba.

Castro voiced Cuba's willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in all of the international forums.

While urging Obama to remove all the obstacles that restrict the normal links between the two nations, Castro asked Obama to recognize that there are "differences" in both countries by " concepts of democracy, human rights and government."

"We must learn the art of living together in a civilized way with our own differences," said Castro.

Officials from the two countries are now expected to initiate talks on restoring ties, which were severed in 1961.

News of the rapprochement followed an exchange of prisoners between the two countries earlier in the day. Alan Gross, a U.S. subcontractor who had served behind bars for five years in a Cuban prison on charges of illegally importing communications equipment with the intent to incite unrest in the island country, was released and flown back home early Wednesday.

In the meantime, the remaining three agents of the Cuban Five, who had been imprisoned in the United States, were released and returned to their home country Wednesday. Before that, two other agents of the group -- Rene Fernandez and Fernando Gonzalez -- were freed in 2011 and 2014 after serving about 13 years and more than 15 years behind bars, respectively. They now live in Havana.

Editor: Tian Shaohui


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