HAVANA, 17 December President Barack Obama announced Wednesday at the White House that the United States will move swiftly toward normalizing diplomatic relations with the isolated communist country of Cuba, following more than a half-century of icy stares.
‘We will begin to normalize relations’ between the U.S. and Cuba, he said. ‘We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.’ Cuba released American aid worker Alan Gross in the morning after five years in captivity, in a prisoner exchange with Havana that started a day of unprecedented United States action that will include, eventually, a lifting of America’s cold-war trade embargo.
The island nation also freed an unnamed American ‘intelligence asset.’ In exchange, Obama announced the release of three Cuban spies including one serving two life sentences related to the downing of two civilian planes in 1996. A U.S. official said Gross was released on humanitarian grounds. Cuban President Raul Castro made a statement at the same time Obama spoke.
Leading senators from both parties savaged the Obama administration’s decision on Wednesday. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the U.S. and Cuba are moving toward normalizing banking and trade relationships – and that America will open an embassy in Havana within months. ‘This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba,’ Rubio said.
‘But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.’