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The Beginning of the End of the Embargo?

December 17, 2014

In what one longtime Cuba watcher is calling “the biggest day for U.S.-Cuban relations in 50 years,” the two governments announced a prisoner exchange today that removes some of the largest impediments to full diplomatic relations between the longtime adversaries. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro are due to make statements later today and according to ABC News, “The White House is indicating the beginning of new talks on everything from travel restrictions to eventual lifting of the Cuban embargo in place since John F. Kennedy was president.”

Alan Gross, an American who was arrested and charged with “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” in 2009 while attempting to deliver communications equipment to religious groups on the island as a subcontractor for the USAID, has been released and is now en route back to the U.S.  Gross was reportedly in poor health and Obama had suggested earlier this month that his release would “remove an impediment to more constructive relations....”

An Americas Society/Council of the Americas report from last year listed a number of other executive actions the White House could take under existing laws, including allowing U.S. businesses to buy products from non-state-controlled Cuban firms, expanding travel licenses to Cuba to include business travel, allowing American travelers to Cuba to have access to U.S. financial services, allowing the sale of telecommunications hardware to Cuba, and allowing Cuba to request assistance from the IMF and the World Bank. (Helms-Burton requires the U.S. to prevent Cuba from joining these organizations....)

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