Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Obama declares new chapter with Cuba

Published:Wednesday | July 1, 2015 | 11:04 PM


President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the US and Cuba will reopen their embassies in Havana and Washington, heralding a "new chapter" in relations after a half-century of hostility.

"We don't have to be imprisoned by the past," Obama said from White House Rose Garden. "Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward."

Cuban television broadcast Obama's statement live, underscoring the new spirit. A state television anchor read a letter from Cuban President Raul Castro to Obama in which he wrote that Cuba is "encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful relations and cooperation between our people and governments."

The embassy agreement marks the biggest tangible step toward normalising relations since the surprise announcement in December that the US and Cuba were restarting diplomatic ties. The posts in Washington and Havana are scheduled to open July 20, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said.

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cuba for the opening of the US Embassy. Kerry, who is in Vienna for nuclear talks with Iran, called the embassy agreement "long overdue".

For Obama, ending the US freeze with Cuba is central to his foreign policy legacy as he nears the end of his presidency. Obama has long touted the value of direct engagement with global foes and has argued that the US economic embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.

Amid the celebratory rhetoric, there were words of caution from both countries.

A statement from the Cuban government said reopening embassies was just the first step in "a long and complex process toward normalisation of bilateral ties."