Obama hails ‘new chapter’ in US-Cuba ties

President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama.

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the plans represented the “most significant changes in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years”.

The US is looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months, he said.

The moves are part of a deal that saw the release of American Alan Gross by Cuba and includes the release of three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.

Mr Gross arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington from Cuba yeaterday. Footage showed him disembarking from a US government plane onto the tarmac where he was met by a crowd.

The 65-year-old spent five years behind bars after being accused of subversion, for trying to bring internet services to communities in Cuba.

He was freed on humanitarian grounds.

His arrest and imprisonment had undermined attempts to thaw diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The US president announced measures that he said would end an “outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests”.

The detention of Alan Gross had for years been a major hurdle on the path to closer ties between Cuba and the US.

His release allows the US to “cut loose the anchor of the past”, as the Obama administration put it.

Washington had held out the prospect of full diplomatic ties within months, but ordinary Cubans are going to be more interested in the economic measures the US government has promised.

Raising remittances levels from $500 (£320) to $2,000 a quarter could make a real difference to the livings standards of those Cubans with relatives and friends living in the US.

And allowing telecom firms to improve internet services in Cuba would also make a tangible change to a country which has one of the lowest rates of internet penetration in the world.

But Cubans critical of the government have slammed the Obama administration for “swallowing the hook” and allowing Raul Castro to score a political victory on the back of Mr Gross’s years in jail.

The three Cubans released in the US are part of the so-called “Cuban Five” convicted of spying.

Prosecutors said they had sought to infiltrate US military bases and spied on Cuban exiles in Florida.

Two of them had recently been allowed to return to Cuba after finishing their sentences.—

BBC

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