After 50 years, US to reestablish embassy in Cuba

The United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to reopen embassies in Havana and Washington, President Obama announced Wednesday.

Ramon Espinosa/AP/File
A Cuban and American flag wave from the balcony of the Hotel Saratoga in Havana, Cuba, Jan. 19. President Obama will announce Thursday that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to open embassies in Havana and Washington, a senior administration official said.

The United States and Cuba have reached a historic agreement to reopen embassies in each country’s capitals and officially seal a restored relationship for the first time in five decades.

On Wednesday morning, President Obama announced details of rapprochement under the agreement, brokered nearly six and a half months after Mr. Obama and President Raul Castro achieved a diplomatic breakthrough.

"We are neighbors, and now we can be friends," Obama told reporters during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. "We don't have to be imprisoned by the past."

The US and Cuba began secret negotiations on restoring ties in mid-2013, leading to the landmark announcement in December, when Obama and Castro said separately that they had swapped prisoners and would seek to normalize relations..

In April, Obama and Castro met in Panama, the first time the leaders of both countries had met in more than half a century.

It was little surprise, then, that three days later Obama announced he would be removing Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a critical step that had been long overdue from America, experts told the Monitor.

In a move that signaled Havana and Washington will be moving in sync, Cuba’s Communist government said the chief of the US mission, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, would meet the interim foreign minister in Havana on Wednesday to deliver a note from Obama to Castro formalizing ties.

Officials familiar with the matter said US Secretary of State John Kerry was likely to travel to Havana during the week of July 20 for a flag-raising ceremony to reopen the American embassy.

The White House has also not ruled out a presidential visit to Cuba before President Obama leaves office, reported CNN.

The State Department must give Congress at least 15 days’ notice before opening an embassy. But the restoration process at large is expected to move slowly because of issues including Cuba’s human rights record and its desire to keep a tight grip on domestic affairs.

The US economic embargo against Cuba will remain, only to be lifted by Congress. So far, Obama’s calls to lift the embargo have largely been met with resistance.

While Obama has eased restrictions for Americans to conduct authorized visits to Cuba, tourism also remains illegal. Chances of the travel ban ending soon are still unclear, but it is under consideration by Congress.

Government officials say the chances of Republican Congress members blocking the US-Cuban détente and the openings of embassies are slim to none.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican Cuban-American congresswoman from south Florida, released a statement of opposition Tuesday. “Opening the American Embassy in Cuba will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping,” she said.

How quickly each country will now move to name an ambassador for each embassy remains unclear, but Republicans against rebuilding relations are expected to try to block Senate confirmation of Obama's choice for envoy.

Obstacles to normalization have included US demands for relative freedom of movement for their diplomats on the island, while the Cubans had objected to US training courses in journalism and information technology given at the US interests section in Havana. No outstanding differences otherwise are apparent.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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