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Historic Cuba Announcement

December 18th, 2014

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President Obama made a huge and historic announcement yesterday that it’s pursuing a friendlier relationship with Cuba — a country we haven’t had a good relationship with for half a century.

Cuba is an island country just 90 miles south of Florida, and the only communist country in the Western hemisphere .

President Obama, who wasn’t even alive when the relationship between the two countries went sour, said it’s time for a change.  He said in his speech yesterday, “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

President Raul Castro said in his speech to the Cuban people , “We must learn the art of co-existing with our differences in a civilized manner.”

This change comes as the world has also changed in the last 50 years with the Internet and world travel.

Why aren’t we friends?

Cuba’s a communist country that’s been led by Fidel Castro, and more recently his brother Raul Castro, for many decades. In communist countries citizens don’t have basic freedoms. The U.S., as a democracy, opposes communism.

Another issue is that Cuba used to be an ally of the Soviet Union (now Russia). In the early 1960s the Soviets brought nuclear weapons to Cuba to threaten the U.S.   Way too close for comfort. That threat has been gone for a long time and Russia and Cuba don’t have the same relationship they used to, but the U.S. and Cuba have been frosty toward each other ever since.

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Originally, when Fidel Castro came to power, the U.S. tried to overthrow his regime but failed. Another tactic: embargoes. For 50 years (even before many of your parents were born), the U.S. has placed embargoes on Cuba — meaning that, as a kind of punishment, the U.S. has allowed hardly any travel or business to be done with Cuba, in order to hurt Cuba’s economy.

The problem is this mainly hurts ordinary citizens trying to make a living. Many Cubans have risked their lives to flee Cuba for the U.S., including in makeshift rafts. There’s an established Cuban-American community in the U.S., mainly in Miami, Florida. But because of the restrictions they haven’t been able to easily visit or financially help their loved ones back in Cuba.

So what’s going to change?

Since this was an executive action taken by President Obama (as much as a president can do without going through Congress), a lot will change … but not everything.

You won’t be able to go there as a regular tourist just yet, but it will be easier to travel if you have family, are playing sports, are performing, or are a journalist, for example.

Money will start flowing more between the two countries. Information will flow more too with greater access to the Internet which is pretty limited right now.

The U.S will have an embassy in Havana (Cuba’s capital), a place where the U.S. will be represented inside of Cuba and be able to continue to work on relations.

Part of the agreement included that some Cuban prisoners be released, as well as an American prisoner in Cuba, Alan Gross. He was doing work for the U.S. government bringing communications equipment to Cuba, was arrested, and had been in prison in Cuba for 5 years. He’s back in the U.S. now.

How did all this come about?

There were about a year and a half of secret meetings between Cuban and American representatives! Pope Francis played a big part encouraging the two countries to keep talking (he is from Latin America and has a special understanding of some of the issues). Meetings were held at the Vatican and in Canada. And President Obama and President Castro got on the phone as well. History in the making often takes time.

Not everyone agrees with what President Obama’s decision. Some believe that the U.S. is giving in to a leader who treats his citizens badly.

Both leaders agree they still have differences, but they’re willing to address them directly. We wonder what the story will be in another 50 years.

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