Washington, DC - December 17, 2015, marks one year since President Obama announced an historic opening between the United States and Cuba, ending a failed policy of isolation, and announcing steps to empower the Cuban people, normalize relations with the Cuban government, and more effectively support U.S. interests in Cuba.
Our new approach involves the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and adjusted regulations to facilitate greater travel, commerce, people-to-people ties, and the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. Simply put, our new Cuba policy allows us to more effectively improve the lives of the Cuban people, advance our interests and values, and build broader ties of cooperation across the Americas.
Since the President’s announcement, the United States and Cuba have taken many steps as part of our effort to normalize relations, focusing on areas of mutual interest, including establishing diplomatic relations, enhancing security, building bridges between our peoples, and promoting economic prosperity for citizens of both our countries. Normalization is a complex, long-term process, and we will continue to work with Cuba to address areas of mutual concern even as we will be very clear about our differences, including with respect to the United States’ support for democracy and human rights. Below are examples of the progress we have made over the past year:
Removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List
In May 2015, we removed Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List because it is not a state sponsor of terrorism. Removing Cuba from the list helped pave the way for the re-opening of embassies and increased ties between our countries and people.
Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations
In July 2015, we welcomed the historic opening of the Embassy of the United States of America in Havana, Cuba, and the opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. U.S. diplomats now have greater freedom of movement in Cuba, including the ability to travel across the island and engage the Cuban people broadly. Cuban citizens also have greater access to our Embassy. The opening of the U.S. Embassy substantially improves our ability to engage the Cuban people and support U.S. interests in Cuba.
Secretary of State Kerry visited Cuba in August for the U.S. Embassy’s flag raising ceremony, noting in his remarks that “Neighbors will always have much to discuss in such areas as civil aviation, migration policy, disaster preparedness, protecting marine environment, global climate change, and other tougher and more complicated issues. Having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk, and talk can deepen understanding even when we know full well we will not see eye to eye on everything.” Secretary Kerry was the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.
U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Steering Commission
In order to discuss a range of economic, social, and cultural issues, as well areas of difference, the United States and Cuba established a Bilateral Steering Commission, which has met twice in the past year. We have already reached several understandings and are making steady progress toward others. Below are some examples:
- Environment: The United States and Cuba are working together to protect the environment and manage marine protected areas in Cuba, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. Given our geographical proximity to Cuba, working together on these issues makes good sense.
- Law Enforcement and Counternarcotics: We continue to work with Cuba to expand counternarcotics cooperation to counter the threats posed by illicit narcotics trafficking. We are looking at better ways to share information and coordinate activities. U.S. and Cuban agencies also plan a series of discussions on the prevention of smuggling.
- Mail: The U.S. and Cuba recently reached an understanding to re-establish direct postal services between the two countries through the implementation of a pilot plan for the transportation of mail. The plan will provide for mail flights between the two countries several times a week.
- Claims: The U.S. and Cuban governments have begun initial discussions on long-standing property claims.
Our commitment to universal human rights and support for democratic reforms in Cuba is unwavering. The United States and Cuba held a human rights dialogue in Washington, DC in March. We continue to criticize violations of human rights and advocate for the respect of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The United States and Cuba share a common interest in the health and welfare of the people of Haiti. During the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort’s visit to Haiti in September, U.S. and Cuban medical professionals consulted and discussed opportunities for future collaboration. Cuban medical professionals stationed in Haiti visited the Comfort and received a briefing of the ship’s mission and capabilities, and medical staff from the Comfort joined Cuban medical professionals on a tour of other medical facilities in Haiti. The engagement was a tangible manifestation of the normalization process and an opportunity for U.S. and Cuban medical professionals to provide care to Haitians.
In January and September, the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce announced regulatory changes to, among other things, make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and strengthen people-to-people ties. U.S. travel to Cuba has increased by 54 percent over the past year. Americans are interacting with Cubans of all walks of life, giving Cubans a more accurate understanding of our country and how we live.
The Administration has also taken steps to make it easier to do business with Cuba and to support Cuba’s growing private sector. Regulatory changes have made it easier for U.S. businesses to engage with their Cuban counterparts to provide resources and share information to help the private sector continue to grow. Secretary of Commerce Pritzker traveled to Havana in October to gain more insight into Cuban regulations governing trade and investment and how we can, consistent with U.S. law, expand commerce to the benefit of both our countries. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack visited Havana in November to learn more about the Cuban agricultural sector and explore collaboration in areas such as research, agricultural biotechnology, and organics.
Internet and Telecommunications
Our regulatory changes encourage more engagement by U.S. telecommunications and internet companies in Cuba to support better connectivity and access to information by the Cuban people. Recent deals between U.S. telecommunications companies and Cuba demonstrate that regulatory openings can enhance the flow of information to, from, and on the island.
Security of Trade and Travel Flows
Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas traveled to Cuba in October to discuss practical measures for cooperation in securing trade and travel flows between the two countries as volumes increase. Maritime law enforcement and aviation security agencies in the two countries have longstanding professional relationships. The visit was intended to encourage the development of relationships among a wider variety of U.S. and Cuban agencies responsible for trade and travel security.
As a result of the visit, the U.S. and Cuban agencies will collaborate to secure passenger ferries, aircraft and private vessels traveling between the countries, exchange best practices for detection of fraudulent documents and further practical cooperation in areas including customs and passenger screening. Participants also agreed to work together on port security.
Colombia Peace Talks
The United States has a long-standing commitment to peace, security, and justice for our close friend and partner Colombia. As a part of that commitment, we have supported the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC which have been hosted by the Cuban government in Havana including with the appointment of Special Envoy Bernie Aronson.
The Way Forward
Change will not happen overnight, but we are moving in the right direction. We will continue to pursue increased engagement between the United States and Cuba. We continue to believe that the legislatively-imposed U.S. embargo on Cuba is counter-productive and should be lifted.