Charting a New Course on Cuba

introduction: cuba

We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. President Obama is taking action to cut loose the anchor of failed policies of the past, and to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Cuba.

On March 20, the President and the First Lady traveled to Havana, Cuba in his continued efforts to engage and empower the Cuban people.

Watch Secretary Kerry deliver remarks from our re-opened Embassy in Havana. Watch on YouTube

And make sure you get the full story from Ben on how we got to this historic point here — then follow him on Twitter, @Rhodes44, to get the latest on the road to Cuba.

En Español

¡Hola desde Cuba! Michelle, the girls, and I are here in Havana on our first full day in Cuba. It’s humbling to be the...

Posted by President Obama on Monday, March 21, 2016

Changing Course in Cuba: The Progress We've Made Since 2014

On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced that he was rejecting the failed, Cold War-era policy era of the past to chart a new course in Cuba. Check out the progress we've made in normalizing relations with a country just 90 miles off our coast.

Timeline of Diplomatic Engagement

Dec 17,
President Obama and President Castro simultaneously announced a new course in relations between the United States and Cuba.
May 29,
The Secretary of State rescinded Cuba¹s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism List, another step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Mar 31,
The United States and Cuba held in Washington D.C. the first planning session for a Human Rights Dialogue at which both governments raised issues to pursue.
Jul 20,
The Embassy of the United States of America re-opened in Havana and the Cuban Embassy re-opened 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 improved our ability to engage the Cuban people and support U.S. interests in Cuba.
Aug 14,
Secretary of State Kerry visited Cuba for the U.S. Embassy's flag raising ceremony, noting in his remarks that 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.
Sep 11,
The United States and Cuba established the Bilateral Commission, the primary vehicle for advancing normalization.
Oct 7-8,
The United States and Cuba held the inaugural regulatory dialogue to discuss more effective implementation of U.S. regulatory policies toward Cuba.
Nov 9,
The United States and Cuba held the first bilateral Law Enforcement Dialogue. The discussion focused on a wide range of areas of cooperation in law enforcement, including counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, transnational crime, cyber-crime, secure travel and trade, and fugitives.
Nov 18,
The U.S. and Cuban governments signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a cooperative relationship dedicated to the science, stewardship, and management of our countries existing marine protected areas.
Nov 24,
The U.S. and Cuban governments signed a joint statement pledging cooperation between our two countries on a range of environmental issues such as protection of our marine and coastal areas, disaster risk reduction, and oil spill prevention and response.
Nov 30,
The U.S. and Cuban governments held the regularly scheduled Migration Talks to discuss continuing implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which provide for the safe, orderly, and legal migration of Cubans to the United States.
Dec 1,
The United States and Cuba held our second Counternarcotics Dialogue. Under this dialogue, the two governments seek to increase counternarcotics cooperation and information exchange.
Dec 8,
The U.S. and Cuban governments held the first Dialogue on Claims­, a first step in a complex process. The U.S. government is committed to resolving U.S. claims against the Cuban government.
Dec 10,
The U.S. and Cuban governments finalized the details of a pilot program for the direct transportation of mail to begin implementation in the near future.
Dec 17,
President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of his new course in relations with Cuba. He noted that we are advancing our shared interests and working together on complex issues that for too long defined­and divided­us. Meanwhile, the United States is in a stronger position to engage the people and governments of our hemisphere.
Jan 11,
Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Susan Coppedge met with Cuban government officials and others to discuss the country's efforts to address trafficking in persons.
Feb 16,
A bilateral arrangement to restore scheduled air services between the United States and Cuba was signed by Transportation Secretary Foxx and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin; scheduled service is expected to commence later this year.
Feb 17-18,
The U.S. and Cuban governments held the second Regulatory Dialogue to discuss more effective implementation of U.S. regulatory policies toward Cuba.
Mar 16,
First direct mail flights between the United States and Cuba for the first time in 50 years. The flight to Cuba carried a letter to a 76-year-old letter writer in Cuba.

A Failed Approach

Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Next Steps, New Course

Since the President took office in 2009, he has taken steps to support the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future.

Now, the President is taking the next steps to renew our leadership in the Americas, end our outdated approach on Cuba, and promote more effective change that supports the Cuban people and our national security interests.

Here’s what the President’s new approach will do:

  • Re-establish diplomatic relations
    Our diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in January of 1961. The President is immediately reopening discussions with Cuba and working to re-establish an embassy in Havana in the next coming months. The U.S. will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.

  • More effectively empower the Cuban people by adjusting regulations
    The President is taking steps to improve travel and remittance policies that will further increase people-to-people contact, support civil society in Cuba, and enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.

  • Facilitate an expansion of travel to Cuba
    The U.S. is restoring up to 110 direct, commercial roundtrip flights a day. With expanded travel, Americans will be able to help support the growth of civil society in Cuba more easily, and provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers. Americans will also be able to provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in 12 existing categories:

    1. Family visits
    2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
    3. Journalistic activity
    4. Professional research and professional meetings
    5. Educational activities
    6. Religious activities
    7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
      Support for the Cuban people
    1. Humanitarian projects
    2. Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutions
    3. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
    4. Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines
  • Authorize expanded sales and exports of certain goods and services from the U.S. to Cuba
    The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector and make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.

  • Authorize American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba
    Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.

  • Initiate new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications
    and their ability to communicate freely

    Cuba has an Internet penetration of about five percent – one of the lowest rates in the world. The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited. Now, telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services.

Learn more about the steps President Obama is taking to improve U.S. and Cuban relations here.

Human Rights and Civil Society

A critical focus of these actions will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba. The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future. The U.S. efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored. The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today. The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Photo Gallery

Cuba relations

Share the News