In the immediate aftermath of the release of USAID worker Alan Gross, the White House is set to announce a sweeping set of changes in their policy towards Cuba that includes expansion of travel to the island, permission for telecommunications companies to establish themselves there, and opening an embassy in Havana.
The extensive list of reforms were detailed in a release by the White House Press Office today.
Claiming that the United States embargo on Cuba “has isolated the United States from regional and international partners” and “failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the Press Office’s release detail significant changes in policy towards the island. Atop the list is the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time since the embargo was established, as well as a promise of “high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments.”
The Secretary of State, John Kerry, is set “to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba,” and the United States will look towards “expansion of travel” to Cuba and opening significant trade avenues– such as telecommunications– to help private business in Cuba grow. To help Cubans build new businesses, literally, from the ground up, the announcement notes that US companies will be allowed greater freedom to export “certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.”
Telecommunications companies based in the United States will be allowed to build infrastructure in Cuba, for the promotion of greater access to communications and internet– the cause that landed Alan Gross in prison.
Many of the provisions the White House details will have no impact on the Cuban people if the Cuban government upholds its own embargo on the United States. Cuba’s communist regime recently tightened the embargo on the United States, limiting the number of necessary goods, like soap and underwear, that Cuban Americans can bring to their families. For example, granting American telecommunications companies the ability to build infrastructure in Cuba will mean nothing if Cuba does not allow those companies to do business on the island. Similarly, allowing Americans to sell goods to Cubans will have no impact if the Cuban government bans Cubans from buying said goods.
To that end, the White House Press Office release identifies the problem and requests that Cuba open its arms to an influx of capitalism: “we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
Perhaps knowing that opening Cuba for business to Americans is not necessarily a positive change for the communist government, favors unrelated to economic reform, such as reviewing Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terror, are also on the list of changes. Cuba has been on America’s state sponsor of terror list since 1982 for providing asylum to leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist group in the world.
The Associated Press reports that President Obama has spoken by phone to Cuban dictator Raúl Castro about these reforms. President Obama is set to speak about these reforms at noon in a public address, as well. The Cuban government has yet to respond publicly to these changes.