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Foreign Policy Analysis
The President on Re-establishing Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

The President on Re-establishing Diplomatic Relations with Cuba


The President: Good
morning, everybody. Please have a seat. More than 54 years ago, at
the height of the Cold War, the United States closed
its embassy in Havana. Today, I can announce that
the United States has agreed to formally re-establish
diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and
re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step
forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the
Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter
with our neighbors in the Americas. When the United States
shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone
expected that it would be more than half a century
before it re-opened. After all, our nations are
separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds
of family and friendship between our people. But there have been very
real, profound differences between our governments, and
sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain
way of doing things. For the United States, that
meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting
democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our
efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions
increasingly had the opposite effect — cementing
the status quo and isolating the United States from
our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark
today is yet another demonstration that we don’t
have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t
working, we can — and will — change. Last December, I announced
that the United States and Cuba had decided to take
steps to normalize our relationship. As part of that effort,
President Raul Castro and I directed our teams
to negotiate the re-establishment
of embassies. Since then, our State
Department has worked hard with their Cuban
counterparts to achieve that goal. And later this summer,
Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to
proudly raise the American flag over our
embassy once more. This is not merely symbolic. With this change, we will
be able to substantially increase our contacts
with the Cuban people. We’ll have more
personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have
the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban
government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are
reaching for a better life. On issues of common interest
— like counterterrorism, disaster response, and
development — we will find new ways to
cooperate with Cuba. And I’ve been clear that we
will also continue to have some very serious
differences. That will include America’s
enduring support for universal values, like
freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability
to access information. And we will not hesitate
to speak out when we see actions that contradict
those values. However, I strongly believe
that the best way for America to support
our values is through engagement. That’s why we’ve already
taken steps to allow for greater travel,
people-to-people and commercial ties between the
United States and Cuba. And we will continue
to do so going forward. Since December, we’ve
already seen enormous enthusiasm for
this new approach. Leaders across the Americas
have expressed support for our change in policy; you
heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff
of Brazil yesterday. Public opinion surveys in
both our countries show broad support for
this engagement. One Cuban said, “I have
prepared for this all my life.” Another said that that,
“this is like a shot of oxygen.” One Cuban teacher put it
simply: “We are neighbors. Now we can be friends.” Here in the United States,
we’ve seen that same enthusiasm. There are Americans who
want to travel to Cuba and American businesses who
want to invest in Cuba. American colleges and
universities that want to partner with Cuba. Above all, Americans who
want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement,
we can also help the Cuban people improve
their own lives. One Cuban American looked
forward to “reuniting families and opening
lines of communications.” Another put it bluntly: “You
can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what
happened in the past.” And that’s what this is
about: a choice between the future and the past. Americans and Cubans alike
are ready to move forward. I believe it’s time for
Congress to do the same. I’ve called on Congress
to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents
Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba. We’ve already seen members
from both parties begin that work. After all, why should
Washington stand in the way of our own people? Yes, there are those who
want to turn back the clock and double down on a
policy of isolation. But it’s long past time for
us to realize that this approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked
for 50 years. It shuts America out of
Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for
the Cuban people. So I’d ask Congress to
listen to the Cuban people. Listen to the
American people. Listen to the words of a
proud Cuban American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came
out against the policy of the past, saying, “I wonder
if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most
basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel
that this approach is helpful to them.” Of course, nobody
expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American
engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and
most of all, through our people — is the best way to
advance our interests and support for democracy
and human rights. Time and again, America has
demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world
is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the
world to reach for something better. A year ago, it might have
seemed impossible that the United States would once
again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes,
over an embassy in Havana. This is what
change looks like. In January of 1961, the year
I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the
termination of our relations with Cuba, he said: It is my
hope and my conviction that it is “in the
not-too-distant future it will be possible for the
historic friendship between us once again to find
its reflection in normal relations of every sort.” Well, it took a while, but I
believe that time has come. And a better
future lies ahead. Thank you very much. And I want to thank some
of my team who worked diligently to
make this happen. They’re here. They don’t always
get acknowledged. We’re really proud of them. Good work.

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