The United States and Cuba will reestablish diplomatic relations and later this month will reopen embassies in Washington and Havana. President Barack Obama made the announcement on Wednesday.
The decision is part of efforts to end years of conflicts between the two countries. The tensions began shortly after Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government in 1959. Two years later, the United States ended relations with Cuba. And in 1962 it put in place an embargo, a complete end to trade.
In December, Mr. Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro announced the two countries had agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations. Secret meetings had been taking place between representatives of the two countries since 2013. The two men met in April in Panama at the Summit of the Americas. And in May, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state supporters of terrorism.
Commercial air and ferry services between the two countries have been, or are being, restored. Restrictions on communications have been eased. American citizens may travel to Cuba, although there are limits on the reasons for their travel.
But there are still issues the two countries must resolve. For example, it is still not legal for American products to be shipped to Cuba. However, President Obama has called for the trade embargo to be ended. And the United States believes Cuba must improve its human rights record. Last month, the United States released its yearly human rights report. It said Cuba does not respect basic freedoms. It said the Cuban government detains political opponents for no reason and limits its citizens’ ability to read independent information free of censorship.
President Obama’s efforts to ease tensions between the two countries are not popular with his political opponents in Congress. Many Republican lawmakers say he is ignoring Cuba’s poor human rights record. The House and Senate, which are controlled by Republicans, could refuse to approve money to open an American embassy in Havana. They could block whoever Mr. Obama names as the new American ambassador to Cuba. Experts also say Congress is not likely to agree to end the economic embargo on Cuba.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a Republican member of the House of Representatives from the southern state of Florida, which is just 144 kilometers from Cuba. She is also a Cuban-American. She represents many Cuban refugees. On Tuesday, she released a statement that said a new U.S. embassy in Cuba will, in her words, “do nothing to help the Cuban people.” She said President Obama made the decision to improve relations with Cuba only because he wanted future historians to think well of him.
Nancy Pelosi is the top Democrat in the House of Representatives and a former Speaker of the House. She said the decision will help American businesses and families.
Many nations and organizations support the decision. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it an “historic step that will benefit peoples of both countries.” Switzerland said it will “contribute to security, stability and prosperity in the region.”
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
This report was based on stories from VOA reporters Mia Bush, Michael Bowman, Jerome Socoloksy, Amanda Scott and Victor Beattie. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in The News
ferry – n. a boat that carries passengers usually from an island to the mainland
censorship – n. the act of limiting information that is considered harmful or not acceptable
region – n. a large geographical area
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