Obama: “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do” / 14ymedio

Obama during his speech
Obama during his speech

14ymedio, Havana, 17 December 2014 – US President Barack Obama announced in a speech from the White House this Wednesday that Cuba and the United States would resume diplomatic relations after the break that occurred in 1961.

“Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.” Obama said. “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.”

The president said that the current classification of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism will also be reviewed.

The US Secretary of State will initiate conversations with Cuba “immediately” and it is expected that in the coming months the United States will open an embassy in Cuba. The first step in this process will be to address the issue of immigration between the two countries at a meeting scheduled for this coming January in Havana.

United States actions in Cuba, Obama said, will focus on improving conditions with regards to human rights and the implementation of democratic reforms in Cuba, as well as other issues of mutual interest, such as immigration, counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and human trafficking.

The White House also announced changes with regards to travel, such as favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba for all authorized travelers, or the ability to use American credit and debit cards on the island, and easing the policy on remittances. With regards to the latter the allowable amount will be increased from $500 per quarter to $2000, and will no longer require a license specific to the expediter.

Also authorized is the expansion of sales and commercial exports of certain goods and services from the United States (for example, some construction materials or agricultural machinery), as well as allowing travelers returning from the island to import a maximum of $400 in goods, of which no more than $100 may consist of a combination of tobacco and alcohol products.

Obama said that the United States will offer its support to increase Cubans’ access to communications, both through the commercial export of certain goods and the authorization for service providers to implement the mechanisms necessary to provide commercial telephone and Internet services.

“This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas, but we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.” The US president will be present at the meeting in Panama at which topics such as human rights and democracy will be discussed.