Historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations announced

Alan Gross

Alan Gross  

The United States on Wednesday announced a “historic” thaw in relations with Cuba, saying it would work to re-establish diplomatic ties with Havana and ease long-standing trade and travel sanctions. The announcement comes amid a series of new confidence-building measures between the long-time foes, including the release of American Alan Gross and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

Washington will re-establish an embassy in Havana “in the coming months,” a senior administration official said after a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Mr. Obama was due to make a policy announcement at the White House shortly after noon (1700 GMT). Cuban President Raul Castro was set to make a speech at the same time.

“The President also made clear his intent to pursue these policy changes but also to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba,” the officials said.

The United States imposed a trade embargo against Cuba — the Cold War foe closest to its shores — in 1960 and the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1961.

It hurt the Caribbean island state’s economy, but it failed to unseat the Havana governments led first by revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and latterly by his brother Raul.

The rivals have maintain “interests sections” in each other’s capital, and contacts have increased in recent months as medical teams from both countries responded to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans favour a change in policy toward Cuba, even in Florida, home to a large anti-Castro Cuban-American community.

Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor freed after five years in jail in Cuba, was swapped for three Cubans imprisoned in the United States as spies, a senior U.S. administration official said on Wednesday.

The official told AFP it was a “swap with intel assets,” acknowledging that the assets were the three Cubans serving U.S. prison terms for espionage.

The three were the remaining members of the so-called ‘Cuban Five,’ a network of spies arrested in 1998 and convicted in 2001.

The three still in prison at the time of the swap were Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino. — AFP, AP

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