President Obama argued that “part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change” in a speech announcing the US is restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday.
Obama stated, “Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
He continued that while there have been differences between the American Cuban governments, the US clung “to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect, cementing the status quo, and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can and will change.”
Obama argued that “with this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy, and our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life. On issues of common interest like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development, we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba. And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America’s enduring support for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values. However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement. That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba, and we will continue to do so going forward.”
He added, “Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock, and double down on a policy of isolation. But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people. So, I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people, listen to the American people, listen to the words of a proud Cuban-American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past saying, ‘I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.'”
Obama concluded, “of course nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights. Time and again, America’s demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better. A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”
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