'New chapter' in US-Cuba ties

US President Barack Obama has hailed a "new chapter" in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said Washington's current approach was "outdated" and the changes were the "most significant" in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.
Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.
The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.
Wednesday's announcements follow more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving Pope Francis.

Republican criticism

The US is looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months, Mr Obama said.
The plans set out [Only registered and activated users can see links. ] also include:

  • Reviewing the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism
  • Easing a travel ban for US citizens
  • Easing financial restrictions
  • Increasing telecommunications links
  • Efforts to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo

Mr Castro said the changes were something Cuba had been pressing for for a long time.
"Ever since my election... I have reiterated on many occasions our preparedness to hold a respectful dialogue with the government of the United States based on sovereign equality," he said.
President Castro urged Washington to lift a trade and economic embargo imposed on the communist-run island - a move that can only be made by Congress.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio has criticised the new US policy, saying it would do nothing to address the issues of Cuba's political system and human rights record.

US and Cuba

54 years
since trade embargo imposed

$1.1 trillion
cost to Cuban economy

  • Cost to US economy $1.2bn a year
  • US presidents since 1960: 11
  • Cuban presidents since 1960: 3

Source: US Chamber of Commerce, Cuba Foreign Ministry


Analysis: Vanessa Buschschluter, Latin America editor, BBC News online

The detention of Alan Gross had for years been a major hurdle on the path to closer ties between Cuba and the US.
His release allows the US to "cut loose the anchor of the past", as the Obama administration put it.
Washington had held out the prospect of full diplomatic ties within months, but ordinary Cubans are going to be more interested in the economic measures the US government has promised.
Raising remittances levels from $500 (£320) to $2,000 a quarter could make a real difference to the livings standards of those Cubans with relatives and friends living in the US.
And allowing telecom firms to improve internet services in Cuba would also make a tangible change to a country which has one of the lowest rates of internet penetration in the world.
But Cubans critical of the government have slammed the Obama administration for "swallowing the hook" and allowing Raul Castro to score a political victory on the back of Mr Gross' years in jail.
Mr Gross' arrest and imprisonment had previously undermined attempts to thaw diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, he thanked his family and supporters, saying: "It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten."
He described the policy shift as a "game changer".
Earlier, the 65-year-old arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Footage showed him disembarking from a US government plane onto the tarmac where he was met by US Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials.
Mr Kerry said he was looking forward "to being the first secretary of state in 60 years to visit Cuba".
Mr Gross spent five years behind bars after being accused of subversion, while on a mission to bring internet services to Jewish community groups in Cuba.
The US and Cuba say he was freed on humanitarian grounds.
The Cuban government has also freed an unnamed American intelligence officer who had been in jail in Cuba for nearly 20 years.
Three Cubans jailed in the US have arrived back in Cuba.
They are part of the so-called "Cuban Five" who US prosecutors said had sought to infiltrate US military bases and spied on Cuban exiles in Florida.
Two of them had recently been allowed to return to Cuba after finishing their sentences.

Key dates

1959: Fidel Castro and his guerrilla army defeat the US-backed Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista
1960-1961: Cuba nationalises US businesses without compensation; US breaks off diplomatic relations and imposes a trade embargo in response
2001: Five Cubans, dubbed the Cuban Five, are jailed in Miami for spying
2008: Raul Castro becomes Cuban president
2009: US citizen Alan Gross detained in Cuba accused of spying
2011: One of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, is freed by the US
Dec 2013: US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at Nelson Mandela's funeral - the first such public gesture since 1959
Feb 2014: The second of the Cuban Five, Fernando Gonzalez, is freed after completing his sentence
17 December 2014: Alan Gross is released by Cuba

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