|Obama with the firm handshake to Castro. |
Courtesy Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
In what could be one of Pres. Barack Obama's crowning moments in foreign policy, the White House announced today that relations with the government of Cuba would be reopened after 50 years of enmity. In a statement today at noon, Pres. Obama announced that the two countries would move towards the establishment of formal relations in the coming months, including the reopening of a US embassy in Havana, the exchange of visits by high-level officials, and a review by the State Department of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terror. He justified the move by arguing that US policy towards Cuba, largely driven by isolation and embargo, has "failed to advance our interests" given that Communist Castro government remains in power, while the lives of everyday Cubans have been made extremely difficult by US policy.
The news came on the heels of the release of imprisoned US subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been held in Cuba for 5 years on charges of subversion and whose imprisonment was a major barrier to Pres. Obama's goal of improving US-Cuban relations. Gross was arrested in 2009 for distributing illegal satellite technology in an attempt to increase internet access among Cuba's small Jewish community. The 65-year-old was in poor health, having lost 100 pounds during his imprisonment and going on a hunger strike in April, and had reportedly suggested to his family that he would commit suicide if his imprisonment continued.