December 17th will be marked as a historic day for a once damaged relationship in politics as President Obama has laid out some hopeful plans to restore full diplomatic relations with the country of Cuba.
In his speech, President Obama said:
“I’ve extracted secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January 1951. Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba. Where we can advance shared interests–we will–on issues like health, migration, counter terrorism drug trafficking and disaster response.”
The President’s words were preceded by his Administration freeing former American contractor Alan Gross who was imprisoned in Cuba for five years. He was arrested by officials in 2009, and then prosecuted in 2011 by Cuban law for distributing Internet and computer equipment without a Cuban permit. At the time, he was working for the Agency of International Development, but officials thought he was a spy. It’s no secret that the relationship between Cuba and America has been turbulent since the days of Fidel Castro’s former dictatorship, but Gross’ anticipated departure was supported by the island’s current president Raul Castro. During separate press conferences, both Gross and Obama acknowledged that the U.S. is eager to move forward on positive terms with the Caribbean island.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” President Obama said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 is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
Because Gross’ incarceration was a retaliation of the embargo of U.S. products and accessibility, the President is looking to ease economic fluidity and commerce. He wants to expound on the tactic of “[believing] the power of the people through people engagement.” He’s looking to work with the Cuban government in sharing tools and technology that would advance the country capabilities as well as increase travel from the U.S.
During Gross’ conference, he looked visibly thinner and had lost five of his teeth because of the unhealthy conditions of his jail cell. Yet during his brief speech, he sounded jubilant and grateful to be back home. He said, “I thank all the members of Congress, all sides of the aisle…it was crucial to my survival that I was not forgotten.” He also added, “The people of Cuba are not responsible [for my jail time]. [I found them to be] kind, generous, and talented. [They way they are] treated so unjustly because of two governments belligerent policies [was heartbreaking].”
Obama also said that with this fresh new start, the Cubans should be allowed the same equal rights as any other civilian. What he dreamed spoke of what we’re going through right now with our Black Lives Matter protests and campaigns, “The United States believes that no Cuban should face harassment, or arrests, or beatings, simply because they are exercising a universal right to have their voices heard. We will continue to support civil societies there.”
When Gross got off the plane this morning, he was warmly greeted by his wife Judy and family. Today was good day for global hope.