Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States across the Straits of Florida, but for the last fifty years the distance seemed a lot further.
For over five decades, the U.S. pursued a policy of isolating Cuba. A vestige of the Cold War in our hemisphere that lived on long after the world moved on. The policy didn’t work. Cuba’s political system did not change. Cubans were not better off.
President Obama changed course. He ended half a century of failed isolation and began the process of normalizing relations with one of our closest neighbors.
On this day last year, President Obama formally re-established relations between the United States and Cuba, and the American flag was raised once more over our embassy in Havana.
So what does normalizing relations mean?
Re-establishing relations between the U.S. and Cuba allows us to advance our interests and improve the lives of Cubans. We have a complicated and difficult history, but we don’t need to be defined by it. Normalizing relations helps our governments work together on issues of mutual interest and directly address our disagreements.
We have taken a number of steps to ease restrictions on trade, travel, and financial transactions in order to better support the Cuban people and strengthen ties between Americans and Cubans. We believe that our people are our best ambassadors.
Last March, President Obama became the first United States President to visit Cuba since 1928. He arrived at Jose Marti International Airport, walked through Old Havana, and watched a baseball game. He also spoke directly with the Cuban people at the same place President Coolidge spoke nearly a century before him at El Gran Teatro de la Habana. He said:
Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance -- over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation. The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island -- to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.
…I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
If the President can travel to Cuba, you should be able to as well. And we are taking steps to make sure you can. Travel by U.S. persons to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute, and President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to lift the travel ban. In the interim, the Administration is working to increase authorized travel options.
The U.S. recently approved restoring up to 110 daily flights between our countries -- including 20 daily flights to Havana from ten U.S. cities operated by eight U.S. airlines. American hotels, cruise lines, hospitality companies, and financial services are now operating in Cuba.
Change will take time. Normalizing relations is a complex and ongoing process. The Cuban-American community shows when we engage Cuba, it is not only foreign policy -- for many Americans, it’s family.
About the Author: Ben Rhodes serves as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting at the White House.
Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on Expedia's Viewfinder Travel Blog.