President Barack Obama formally announced on Wednesday his administration’s plan to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, positioning the move as the historic reversal of a half-century-long failed policy between the two countries.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” he said in an address from the White House Cabinet Room. “Instead we will begin to normalize our relations between our two countries. Through the changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”
Obama portrayed the Cuban embargo and the breaking of diplomatic relations that began in 1961 — the same year, he noted, that he was born — as an abject failure. He pointed specifically to the current leadership of Cuban president Raul Castro.
“Today Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the communist party that came to power half a century ago,” he said. “Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
“Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China, a far larger country also governed by a communist party,” he continued. “Nearly two decades ago, we re-established relations with Vietnam where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation. “
The president also announced the policy changes, such as opening an embassy and reviewing Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, that the White House and senior administration officials had already detailed to reporters. The underlying rationale, according to Obama, is that the United States can do more to improve the situation in Cuba by directly engaging with Cuba rather than trying to apply pressure as it has in the past.
“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement,” he said. “After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
“We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination,” Obama said. “Cubans have a saying about daily life. It’s not easy. Today the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier.”