Cuba-US to restablish diplomatic relations, last of Cuban Five released

A billboard in Havana in support of the Cuban Five, the final three of whom have now been released.

Cuban President Raul Castro gave a speech on December 17 in which he said relations between Cuba and the United States would be reset.

“We have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations, but this does not mean that the main issue has been resolved, the blockade that generates economic losses and humanitarian problems in our country must stop,” Castro said.

He said the ongoing Cuban revolution is supported by the population. “Cubans have courageously shown that, despite the adversities, they are committed to the Revolution,” Castro said of the form of governance that has long-been criticized by the US.

“We should take mutual steps to advance towards the normalisation of the relationship between both countries,” the Cuban president said.

Castro called on US President Barack Obama to lift the half-century economic blockade, saying: “The president could modify its implementation by using his executive powers.”

In a sign of the improved relations added, Castro said: “We will continue discussing these issues in the future.”

​Negotiations between Cuba and the US began 18 months ago, with the encouragement of Pope Francis. The secret talks were hosted in Canada, and a final meeting took place in the Vatican.

During the negotiations, both Obama and Castro spoke over the phone and agreed to restart relations between both countries.

Earlier on December 17, Cuba released US spy Alan Gross and the US freed the last three of the five Cuban anti-terrorists -- known as the “Cuban Five”, who had been held in US prisons since 1998.

The Cuban Five were unjustly jailed in the US after being arrested by the FBI in September 1998 in Miami, where they were working infiltrating anti-Cuban terrorist groups operating from the city. They were later convicted in a US federal court in Miami in 2001. They are Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez.

Their arrest has been widely described as an example of political persecution by the US government. The five were falsely accused of conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States, and other related charges.

As the Cuban Five always insisted, they were on a mission in Miami starting in 1990 to monitor the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups in order to stop those groups from carrying out attacks on Cuba.

Cuba arrested Gross, now 65, in December, 2009, and later convicted the USAID subcontractor to 15 years in jail for trying to establish clandestine internet service. Gross was subcontracted by private firm Development Alternatives, Inc., which was subcontracted by USAID to provide “humanitarian assistance”.

USAID has long tried to infiltrate Cuba via various programs to affect “soft change” on the island. The United States has spent US$264 million over the last 18 years, in successive efforts to oust the Cuban government.

The US more overt economic blockade on Cuba, harshly criticised by the international community for many years, has been in place since 1960, one year after the Cuban Revolution overthrew the US-backed Batista dictatorship.

There has been growing pressure from within the US to end the blockade. Ahead of the speech, both Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Senator Richard Durbin announced, through separate statements, that both countries could normalise trade relations.

In a speech made at the same time as Castro's, Obama
also announced substantial US policy changes towards Cuba.

Acknowledging that the decades-old US policy of isolation toward Cuba has failed, Obama said that new steps toward cooperation will include the US opening an embassy in Havana and a discussion in Congress about ending the blockade.

Obama spoke of the countries’ “complicated history”, and admitted that the controversial blockade and other US policies have had “little effect”.

The step toward normalising relations cmes after more than half a century of aggressive destabilisation tactics.

Obama also announced measures to loosen the economic blockade, including easing banking and commerce restrictions, and allowing remittances to be sent back to the island nation by Cubans in the US.

A White House press statement described the events as the US “taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba”.

It added that, “at times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners” and that “we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result”.

[Complied from TeleSUR English.]

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