In January of 1961, President Eisenhower announced the termination of U.S. relations with Cuba. No one expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened.
Today, more than 54 years later, President Obama announced the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries -- a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.
“Later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more,” President Obama said. “This is not merely symbolic. With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.”
The President reiterated his belief that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement, which is why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.
This action will also allow us to find new ways to cooperate with Cuba on other issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development. But President Obama made clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. “That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values”
The President underscored that while Cuba is not expected to be transformed overnight, American engagement -- through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people -- is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.
To many it may have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana, president Obama noted. “This is what change looks like.”
He concluded, “Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”
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