President Barack Obama wants to establish formal diplomatic relations with Cuba and bring an end to 50 years of mistrust and economic sanctions
The United States is set to open an embassy in Cuba before a Western Hemisphere summit in Panama on April 10. The move would formally bring an end to more than fifty years of severed ties between the two countries.
However, it is highly unlikely that the transition to formal relations will be easy or without controversy.
The President spoke with White House Correspondent Jeff Mason, giving the details of the new embassy.
“My hope is that we will be able to open an embassy [by mid-April], and that some of the initial groundwork will have been laid,” said Obama.
“Keep in mind that our expectation has never been that we would achieve full normal relations immediately. There’s a lot of work that still has to be done.”
On Dec. 17, the United States announced its plans to restore diplomatic ties with the island nation.
In the interview, the President emphasized the importance of ending decades of mistrust between the two countries, stating that normalized relations would pave the way for an increasingly modern Cuba. This, according to Obama, has already begun.
“The very fact that, since our announcement, the Cuban government has begun to discuss ways in which they are going to reorganize their economy to accommodate for possible foreign investment, that’s already forcing a series of changes that promises to open up more opportunities for entrepreneurs, more transparency in terms of what’s happening in their economy.”
He emphasized the importance of bringing a free-market based economy to Cuba.
“And that’s always been the premise of this policy; that, after 50 years of a policy that didn’t work, we need to try something new that encourages and ultimately I think forces the Cuban government to engage in a modern economy. And that will create more space for freedom for the Cuban people,” said Obama.
The United States has not had any formal diplomatic ties with Cuba since the revolution of Fidel Castro in 1959 and the widespread nationalization of U.S. corporations’ property.
In addition to the embassy, President Barack Obama also has plans to end a trade embargo imposed on the island more than 50 years ago.
However, this will ultimately need to be sanctioned by the U.S. Congress in order for it to pass.
Last month also saw the introduction of the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, which would strike down existing laws prohibiting U.S. companies from operating in Cuba. The bill, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, is aimed at opening up new markets for U.S. businesses.
“Fifty years of the embargo has not secured our interests in Cuba and has disadvantaged American businesses by restricting commerce with a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores,” said Senator Klobuchar.
In other developments, a Miami travel company has announced that it will begin flights from Key West to Cuba by the middle of this month after the recent end of the travel ban on U.S. citizens.
Flights will take travellers on a nine-passenger plane from Key West International Airport to Havana scheduled every Friday for a round-trip price of $525.