US, Cuba agree to revive diplomatic relations

AFP and AP

WASHINGTON–The United States and Cuba moved to end five decades of Cold War hostility Wednesday, agreeing to revive diplomatic ties in a breakthrough that would also ease a crippling U.S. trade embargo. In the wake of a prisoner exchange, U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington was ready for a ��new chapter�� in relations with communist Cuba and would re-establish its embassy in Havana, shuttered since 1961. ��We are all Americans,�� Obama declared, breaking into Spanish for a speech that the White House portrayed as a bid to reassert U.S. leadership in the Western Hemisphere. Cuba’s President Raul Castro, speaking at the same time in Havana, confirmed that the former enemies had ��agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties�� after a half century of rancor. ��President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgement of our people,�� Castro said, while warning that the embargo �X which he calls a ��blockade�� �X must still be lifted. In Washington, Obama admitted the U.S. trade ban had failed and said he would urge Congress to lift it, while using his presidential authority to advance diplomatic and travel links.

��We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,�� Obama said.

��Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.�� Obama spoke as Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and schoolteachers paused lessons to mark the news. Castro said that while the U.S. and Cuba remain at odds on many matters, ��we should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner in spite of our differences.�� Economic, Diplomatic Ties Eyed

Obama’s plans for remaking U.S. relations with Cuba are sweeping: He aims to expand economic ties, open an embassy in Havana, send high-ranking U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry to visit and review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The U.S. also is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official government business and educational activities. But tourist travel remains banned.

Obama and Castro spoke by telephone Tuesday for nearly an hour, the first presidential-level call between their nations’ leaders since the 1959 Cuban revolution and the approval of a U.S. economic embargo on the communist island that sits just 90 miles off coast of Florida. Even Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in, arguing that U.S. policy in Cuba, while well-intentioned, had only strengthened Castro. ��The best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world,�� she said in a statement.

��For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish come true, because with this, we have overcome our differences,�� said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old information technology specialist.

Under the changes announced Wednesday, licensed American travelers to Cuba will be able to return to the U.S. with US$400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than US$100 combined.

Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans.

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