Obama Opens up Relations with Cuba in History Making Announcement, Updated 12.20

By Karen DeYoung and Brian Murphy December 17 at 1:37 PM     Updated by Boothe Global Perspectives Dec 20th, 2014


(Comments from BGP: Our thanks to the Washington Post for reporting on this issue.  We also credit BBC and CNN for some facts gleaned from their reports. We at BGP (BootheGlobalPerspectives) see this news as ground breaking and worthy of our readers.  

President Obama made history today, in a huge diplomatic success for the President.  Obama, who also had the help of Pope Francis, recognized that the announcement culminated years of negotiations and efforts in this direction.  People in Cuba, Miami and many Latin American nations applauded, cried, and celebrated when President Obama announced a normalization of relations with Cuba.

President Castro of Cuba simultaneously made the announcement to the Cuban people.  This represents correction of a failed policy, that dates back to the Kennedy Administration.  For years, enemies of the United States have used Cuba, to create problems for the United states at our very doorstep, and Obama's move represents an earth changing move, that is enlightened and progressive.

It is a move for peace and communication. We at BootheGlobalPerspectives believe it has huge implications for travel, new business for American firms and Cuban firms, and for peaceful unification of Cuban people in the USA and Cuba.   It marks the days of Miami being a headquarters of militant and immigrant Cubans, and a reunification of families.  We will see new prosperity in Cuba and a growth in commerce, import and export in places such as Miami, Tampa, Houston, Beaumont and Havana.  Tourism, labor exchanges, educational exchanges, new hotels and resorts, even investment by Americans for homes in Cuba could happen. Cuba has suffered economically, and the Cuban people see this as a chance for progress.  

One thing is certain. We are neighbors with Cuba and it's people. It is time we acted in peace as neighbors. As Castro of Cuba said: "We don't have to agree on everything but we must act with friendship and respect".  Castro called for an end of economic sanctions on Cuba.  Most informed experts believe the USA will move in that direction quickly. This is also a victory for Obama, in relation to Russia which made a multi decade point of sending economic aid and support to Cuba.  While Russia's economy is suffering and Russia is engaged in military expansion in the Crimea, Ukraine.  The U.S. economy is expanding, more people than ever in the USA are working, and the USA is creating peaceful relations with it's neighbors. The contrast is telling.)

President Obama announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy with Cuba on Wednesday, moving to normalize relations with the island nation and tear down the last remaining pillar of the Cold War.

Under the new measures, the United States plans to reopen its embassy in Havana and significantly ease restrictions on travel and commerce within the next several weeks and months, Obama said. Speaking from the White House, he declared that a half-century of isolation of the communist country “has not worked.”

“It’s time for a new approach,” he said.Cubans gather to watch sunset at the ocean

The history-shaping overtures come after more than 18 months of secret negotiations with the Cuban government of President Raul Castro. The final touches appeared to be arrangements for a series of simultaneous prisoner releases.


Cuba agreed to release Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned for five years, on humanitarian grounds. The Cubans also released an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset held for two decades and in exchange U.S. officials released three Cuban nationals convicted of spying in 200-1. 

“What a blessing it is,” Gross said at a hastily arranged news conference in Washington. “Thank you President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.” Maryland resident, left Cuba aboard a bright blue and white U.S. aircraft Wednesday morning, with UNITED STATES in huge letters on the fuselage, accompanied by his wife and several members of Congress and arrived at Joint Base Andrews. The Cubans landed in Havana. The unidentified asset was flown separately to the United States.

Although Obama has the power to establish diplomatic relations, the move was the latest in a series of steps he has taken to use executive powers to circumvent legislative opposition — and one that drew a sharp reaction from GOP lawmakers.

In a hard-edged appraisal of U.S. policies, Obama also noted that decades of embargoes and isolation against Cuba failed to topple its communist system and at times spilled back against U.S. interests in the region.

“We do not believe we can keep doing the same thing over five decades and expect a different result,” he said.

Earlier, a White House statement said the U.S. stance against Cuba alienated Washington from “regional and international partners.” 

Economic Impacts Hinted at by President Obama

President Barack Obama says his changes to U.S. policy with Cuba will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and to use their credit and debit cards in the country.

Obama also says that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people, so he's significantly increasing the amount of money that people in the U.S. can send to them.

Obama says increasing commerce and the flow of information will be good both for Americans and Cubans.

As Obama spoke, Castro addressed the Cuban people with promises of a new chapter in relations with Washington but also noted that there are hard issues to work through.

The U.S. embargo “continues to create economic damage to our country. It must stop,” Castro said.

“We recognize we have profound differences, especially in the areas of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign relations,” he said.

But he added the countries have to learn to live with their differences “in a civilized manner.”  Across Havana, church bells rang as he spoke.

“In Havana, people listened raptly to Raul’s speech on the streets and gathered in hotel lobbies to watch Obama’s speech on TV. They burst into spontaneous applause at its conclusion,” said Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), who is on the island for meetings with Cuban officials.  

(BGP note:  Demir Yener, long considered one of the world's best informed experts on international development, who has worked for the World Bank and been a highly respected figure in over 30 nations, told BootheGlobalPerspectives on December 19th, "This is great news.  Obama did the right thing, and took the first shot at reversing a totally ineffectual US policy against Cuba that never succeeded in brining communists down in Cuba.  It in fact helped them endure all these years of hardship by inviting the Soviets in. Since the Soviet union collapsed 25 years ago, what the heck was US doing still keeping the embargo on Cuban people? This will bring in more business to all sides concerned.  So I welcome Obama's initiative. I think Sen. Mark Rubio and his electors should come to terms with this, and approve the congressional vote to lift the embargo.")Demir Yener, International Development and Relations Expert

The outreach does more than break down one of the enduring legacies of the Cold War. It also reverberates across many political frontiers where the standoff between Washington and Havana played a role — from snubs against the United States by Cuba’s Latin American allies to the hero’s welcome given then-President Fidel Castro during a visit to Tehran in 2001.

The final elements of the deal were cemented in a telephone conversation Tuesday between Obama and Raul Castro — the first direct communication between a U.S. and Cuban leader since relations were severed in January 1961. (BGP, This is consistent with President Obama's philosophy that diplomacy and communication is an avenue to peace and progress) 

Officials said the call followed secret channel talks begun in June last year between White House and Cuban officials in a series of meetings held in Canada. The final planning meeting was held in November at the Vatican, where officials said Pope Francis had been instrumental in facilitating agreement.

The issue of Cuban relations, and particularly Gross’s imprisonment, was discussed during Obama’s meeting with the pope in March. Francis subsequently made a personal appeal to both Obama and Castro in letters sent early this summer.

The Vatican “has been deeply involved in this whole negotiation with the prisoners and played a key role,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who was among a number of lawmakers meeting Gross on his arrival at Andrews.

Administration officials said that they did not expect a strongly negative public reaction to the moves, citing changes in the political sentiments of a new generation of Cuban Americans. Virtually all Latin American governments, including close U.S. allies, have long denounced the embargo and called for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

But while church bells were ringing, and the Cuban people were celebrating, as expected the negative political opposition including many Republicans and Cuban American lawmakers were quick to denounce the move. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Obama’s actions “will invite further belligerence toward Cuba’s opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.”  (BGP Editorial comments: Menendez who is influenced by the old wealthy Cuban expatriates, who became influential in Republican politics, especially in Florida. Some call them the GOM, 'Grumpy old men', who still carry a grudge and would gladly war with the Castros. They have influenced Menendez, preferring a continuation of a decades long failed policy.  Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul disagreed with Rubio, and said to Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea. If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Hillary Clinton also weighed in: "Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime's grip on power," Clinton said in a statement. "As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) a descendant of Cuban expatriates and also on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the announcement “just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.” (BGP, editorial comments: Marco Rubio has been recipient of Cuba expatriate contributions, political support and was instantly criticized by the press for his negative comments. Some said this means "adios" to Rubio as a viable Presidential candidate. Rubio said that he would introduce legislation to reverse Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba. When confronted with comments that over 95% of American citizens who originally came here from Cuba were elated with 'normalization', Rubio said: "I do not care if 99% of the people in the polls " disagreed with his stance, he would proceed anyway. So much for the concept of Democracy or representing the people. But both Rubio and Menendez have yet to face the economic pressures from big business within their party, which is eager to invest and do business in Cuba. We will watch this with care, but suggest that Rubio has made a tactical error that is likely impact his political future and viability. Those expatriate Cubans who left Cuba with large sums of cash decades ago, became political favorites of the Miami Republican party, and as their wealth grew contributed largely to conservative Republicans. But the party and Miami area have both seen more business leaders gain in influence and this has diluted the relative influence of the old hard nosed Miami Cuban crowd.  The hard nosed group has nursed an anger wanting to destroy Castro and has even supported infiltration and hostile activities inside of Cuba. Rubio has erred in supporting the wrong crowd of grumpy old men. With the demise and ultimate transition to a Castro managed nation, Cuba has the potential to become a more prosperous and progressive nation and prosperity will tend to help it evolve to a more democratic nation. All Cubans and most American businessmen recognize this. Today, already companies such as McDonald's, Caterpillar Equipment, Marriott Hotels, are working on strategy to develop and invest in Cuba. One CEO, owns businesses from California to Florida told BootheGlobalPerspectives : "This is a huge deal, for business, we are eager to buy and sell in Cuba. It could be a huge market for American exports, and a huge market for Cuban goods in the United States". In the meantime Texas A&M had a study as follows:

A  Texas A&M study estimates that easing restrictions and lifting the travel ban could result in $365 million in additional sales of U.S. agricultural goods, boost the U.S. economy by $1.1 billion and create 6,000 new jobs.

"For those of us who worked over the last 15 years to try to expand our markets, this was one we have worked for a long time to try to get opened back up," said Dean Stoskopf, a wheat grower in Texas. 

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Republican senator urged the Treasury Department to immediately rewrite cumbersome regulations that have made it difficult to sell wheat and other farm commodities to Cuba — saying the agency can take that step even before Congress grapples with whether to entirely lift the U.S. trade embargo.

"Cuba is a natural market for U.S. wheat, particularly for the type of hard red winter wheat that the island nation favors for bread making and that Kansas grows. Industry officials estimate Cuba could potentially buy 500,000 metric tons of wheat annually from the United States" and Kansas is the largest wheat-producing state. ) 

The deal with Obama and Castro, is a major diplomatic victory for Obama, and a perfect swan song for Castro, 83, who has said he will step down in 2018. 

Since taking over in 2006 from his ailing older brother Fidel — now 88 and all but disappeared from public life — Castro has repeated an offer to engage in direct conversations with Obama “as equals,” saying any issue would on the table.

U.S. officials insisted that Gross’s release was on “humanitarian” grounds and separate from what they characterized as a prisoner exchange of intelligence assets. Gross with USIS-USIA released by Cuba, arrives in Air Force One

But, at its core, the swap is the same deal Cuba has been offering for several years: to trade Gross for a group of imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents that Havana champions as “anti-terrorism” heroes. The spies were sent by Cuba in the 1990s to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups in Miami.

Havana’s ceaseless crusade to “Free the 5” — which included paid advertisements in American newspapers and giant billboards in U.S. cities — was always more than a propaganda campaign. For the Castro s, it was personal. Two of the five prisoners had already served much of their terms in prison and been released to Havana.

The Justice Department said that Obama had commuted the remaining sentences of the three and that they had been delivered to Cuba by the U.S. Marshals Service.

After a series of hotel bombings in 1997 by anti-Castro militants targeting the island’s burgeoning tourism industry, Fidel Castro authorized Cuban officials to release information on the groups to U.S. investigators.

But the information the militants provided helped American law enforcement detect the presence of the spies, ultimately leading to their arrests in 1998 and subsequent U.S. prison convictions.

Fidel Castro was said to be personally anguished by the fate of the spies and burdened with guilt for having inadvertently contributed to their arrests.

After the last major upheaval in U.S.-Cuba relations — the all-out campaign to bring home child castaway Elian Gonzalez in 2000 — Fidel Castro and the Cuban government started a similar blitz on behalf of the spies. But they got little traction.

Taking Gross into custody in 2009 changed the equation. His arrest, for distributing computer equipment as part of a clandestine U.S. effort, put new pressure on the covert U.S. democracy-building programs that were an annoyance to the Cuban government.

More importantly, he would become Cuba’s bargaining chip.

Havana never charged Gross with espionage but instead convicted him for “crimes against the state” — essentially for trying to subvert the communist government and working for USAID programs that are illegal on the island.

Gross was sentenced to 15 years, and jailed at a military hospital, where his mental and physical health were said to be in steady decline. In recent months, he had refused medical care and diplomatic visits while threatening to take his own life.

At the news conference in Washington, Gross was missing several teeth, which he said he lost while in captivity.

 Adam Goldman and Ed O’Keefe in Washington and Nick Miroff in San Diego contributed to the original 'announcement' report, and Boothe Global Perspectives (BGP) made editorial comments at the beginning to introduce the article, and updated fast moving current events in the body of the article.


Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.   Brian Murphy joined the Post after more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the Associated Press in Europe and the Middle East. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has written three books.  Ben Boothe, of Boothe Global Perspectives has reported and worked in 20+ nations and published BootheGlobalPerspectives for 27 years.