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Restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States continues
Latinamerica Press
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The decision of both countries to normalize relations will have important economic and political effects.

The United States confirmed on Jan. 13 the release of 53 imprisoned dissidents in Cuba. The release is part of the dialogue initiated on Dec. 17 by US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, broken since 1961.

Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, said in a press briefing that the released individuals “had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.”

Although the Cuban government has not issued any official communication in this regard, it has become known that the measure was a requirement imposed by the United States to advance the dialogue.

However, Elizardo Sánchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said in statements quoted by the press that he was not “consulted” to create the list, but that it was created in Washington from the US Interests Section in Cuba (USINT) information.

Earnest said that “the list of 53 political prisoners that we produced to the Castro regime was not a list that we gave them the day before we made this announcement [of the liberation]. This is a list that was extensively reviewed and negotiated and discussed.”

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Miguel Insulza, welcomed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and expressed his hope that Cuba will return to the inter-American body from which it was expelled in 1962.

“One source of pleasure as Secretary General of the OAS would be that when I leave [on May 26 when his term ends], all nations of the Americas will have sat together at the same table for the first time in their history, and that is a great achievement,” he said in statements to the press.

Easing the embargo
One of the most important aspects of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States will be the end of more than half a century of US embargo on the island.

In his Dec. 17 message, President Castro demanded that the United States end “the economic, commercial and financial blockade that causes enormous human and economic damage to our country” and urged the US government “to remove the obstacles that prevent or restrict the links between our peoples, families and citizens of both countries.”

Although President Obama cannot fully lift the embargo without congressional approval, on Jan. 15 the US government announced the immediate entry into force of a series of measures to ease the remittance, travel, trade, telecommunications and financial services that will have important effects on the Cuban economy.

In a fact sheet, the US Department of the Treasury said that the measures “will facilitate travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, facilitate the provision by travel agents and airlines of authorized travel services and the forwarding by certain entities of authorized remittances, raise the limits on and generally authorize certain categories of remittances to Cuba, allow US financial institutions to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions, authorize certain transactions with Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, and allow a number of other activities related to, among other areas, telecommunications, financial services, trade, and shipping.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions could result in penalties under US law.”

The measures include the increasing of remittances to Cuba from US$500 to $2,000 and a greater flexibility for travel between the two countries, which will promote tourism. According to the US State Department, US citizens currently send remittances worth $2 billion annually to their relatives in Cuba.

Also authorizes the export of certain goods and services to Cuba, including building materials and agricultural products and equipment, allows Cuban imports into the United States, facilitates financial transactions, and promotes in Cuba the widespread use of the Internet and telecommunications, among other measures.

The measures announced by the Department of the Treasury are the prelude to the meeting to be held on Jan. 21 in Cuba by Roberta Jacobson, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, with Cuban authorities, which will mark the official start of talks aimed at the normalization of relations between the two countries.
—Latinamerica Press.

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