This is something a lot of people have been waiting for.
The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
The contractor, Alan P. Gross, traveled on an American government plane to the United States late Wednesday morning, and the United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”
In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it.
“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s time for a new approach.”
If the reaction of the people in my office who have Cuban ties or are Cuban-American is any indication, it’s a stunning move. Some are still holding on to the idea that if we just kept tightening the grip, the Castro brothers would finally give up and install Jeffersonian democracy. Others — especially the younger ones who have no connection to the island other than through a parent or relative — see it as the beginning of the end of a policy that never worked and wasn’t intended to do much more than exact revenge for the Castros tossing out the capitalist exploiters and the Mafia. They have been hoping for an end to the freeze not out of nostalgia but out of a promise of normalization…and the prospect of selling 11 million Cubans McDonald’s and car parts.
Not being Cuban or having any connection to the island, I have never understood the embargo. I don’t have the visceral feeling that the Cuban revolution caused in the people who left everything behind and the hatred they have for the men who they hold personally responsible for upending their lives and killing people they knew. But now, more than fifty years after the revolution and an embargo that did nothing but harm to the average Cuban and served as the excuse for further crackdowns, all that has come of it is the burning hatred that has consumed lives and torn families apart.
Hate only destroys. Nothing good would come from continuing the mistrust and rhetoric. If reconciliation with Vietnam, where we fought a war that killed millions and caused a permanent scar across our nation, can happen, so it can with Cuba if we put hatred aside and show the world and ourselves that we can do it.