Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.
The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.
Can the President do all that?
Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.
The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.
Why the change now, after 50 years?
President Obama has wanted to normalize relations with Cuba since he took office. But according to news reports, the surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis.
The United States sent back three imprisoned Cuban spies who were caught in 1998. They were traded for Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years.
Wait, the Pope was involved?
Yep. Pope Francis is being credited for helping bridge the divide by first sending letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then having the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October.
“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision,” Francis said in a statement issued Wednesday night by the Vatican.
Francis had visited Cuba while a cardinal and has a strong relationship with the archbishop of Havana.
Why is there an embargo?
The U.S. began imposing sanctions against Cuba after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, nationalized the economy, and stole more than $1 billion in American assets on the island.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba broke off in 1961 as tensions between the two nations increased after Cuba signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union. Even though the Cold War ended, not much has changed in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
What does the embargo do?
The embargo prevents American companies from doing business in Cuba and prohibits most Americans from traveling directly there or spending money as tourists,
Will this change have an impact on the U.S. economy?
Not really. Cuba’s economy is too small to have much impact (at an estimated GDP of $71 billion, it’s about half the state of Iowa’s economy).
Other posts in this series:
Eric Garner Case • Human Trafficking and Global Efforts to Abolish Slavery • Grand Juries • Who are the Recent Nobel Peace Prize Winners? • What’s Going on with Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’? • Ebola Crisis • Scottish Independence • Obamacare Subsidies Ruling • Border Crisis • What’s Going on in Iraq? • EPA’s Proposed New Climate Rule • VA Scandal • What is Going on in Vietnam? • Boko Haram and the Kidnapped Christian Girls • The Supreme Court’s Ruling on Government Prayer • Earth Day? • Holy Week? • What’s Going On in Crimea? • What Just Happened with Russia and Ukraine? • What’s Going on in Ukraine • Jobs Report • The Hobby Lobby Amicus Briefs • Common Core? • What’s Going on in Syria? • What’s Going on in Egypt?