President Obama spoke recently about the United States re-establishing ties and normalizing relations with the island nation of Cuba. Mr. Obama held a lunchtime press conference to speak at length about this. Travel will be allowed; this is a major change in American policy because Americans were not allowed to travel directly to Cuba for many years. (Those who did would travel from Jamaica or another place.)
The news broke earlier on Wednesday when it became known that American Alan Gross, a US Agency for International Development contractor, was being freed from Cuban imprisonment. He had been held by Cuba for spying charges for five years.
President Obama is easing the embargo, a major policy change that is taking place even though the Communist government led by the Castro brothers has been in place since the early 1960s. This is a huge shift and already there are some American politicians who are opposing this. Among them are New Jersey senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican. who already came out against this.
The United States will reopen an embassy in Havana, among other initiatives.
This major development was aided by Canada, who helped broker talks. As well, Pope Francis made an appeal via letters to both President Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba.
No doubt this breaking story, and its ripple effects, will be controversial in the United States. The Cuban-American community in particular will have strong feelings about the pros and cons of these normalizing moves. Americans who are interested in business and economic opportunities in Cuba will be pleased with these talks and changes. Those interested in visiting Cuba to see family or merely to visit an island nation known for its natural beauty and its architecture, will also be keen on this huge change in our relationship with Cuba. Those who are angry at the Communist government that is entrenched in Cuba will be wary or even strongly against these moves.
I am pleased to hear of these moves. I have a few friends who were born in Cuba and I cannot wait to hear their reactions to this big, big news.
Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one day, if her publisher gives the green light.)