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Live updates: Restoring U.S.-Cuba ties

December 17, 2014

President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States will normalize relations with Cuba, finally ending a rift that survived the Cold War and has endured for more than 60 years. The shift, which followed more than a year and a half of secret negotiations, follows Cuba’s move to release Alan Gross, an American contractor, in exchange for the release of three Cuban nationals convicted of spying on the United States. We’re bringing you live updates here.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

We are winding down our live coverage of today’s news involving the United States and Cuba. We will have additional stories and developments on The Washington Post through the night, so stay with us for the latest news. In addition, Post reporters Nick Miroff and Manuel Roig-Franzia will be chatting with readers live at 8 p.m., so head here to submit questions and participate in the discussion.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

The potential normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will resonate through Major League Baseball in countless ways. More dazzling talent could flow into the game. More infrastructure will spring up. More rules and regulations will be created. Most critical, the shady means and dangerous back channels of transporting players from Cuba should cease.

The impact on the sport could be immense and, in the words of one team official, “drastic.” Even with a political blockade between the countries, players born in Cuba have shaped baseball in the U.S. Jose Abreu earned last year’s American League Rookie of the Year. Yoenis Cespedes has won the past two Home Run Derbies. Rusney Castillo signed a $72.5 million contract with the Red Sox. Yasiel Puig received a nickname – “The Wild Horse” – from no less of an authority than legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

Adam Kilgore has much more here.

  • Karen Tumulty and Anne Gearan
  • ·

President Obama’s surprising move toward normalizing relations with Cuba amounts to a big bet that the nation — and particularly, the crucial swing state of Florida — has turned a political corner from the Cold War era.

Obama’s decision aligns with a growing sentiment that current Cuba policy has become counterproductive. Among those making that argument has been former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is presumed to be the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination.

More than a decade ago, polls began showing a tilt in public sentiment toward normalizing ties with the island that sits a mere 90 miles from the tip of Key West, Fla. In 2009, a Washington Post-ABC News survey found that two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) supported restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only 27 percent opposed doing so.

The old ideological and economic battle lines have also been fading on the ground. Even as a trade embargo has remained in place, nearly 600,000 U.S. travelers went to Cuba last year — the majority of them Cuban-Americans. Business interests have also pushed for more openness, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pledged its support for Obama’s decision.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

Many critics of the Obama administration’s handling of Alan Gross’s release and improved relations with Cuba have pounced on Gross being traded for three Cuban nationals convicted of spying in the United States.

President Obama, speaking Wednesday, said that Gross was released “on humanitarian grounds,” and that the release of the three Cuban agents came in exchange for the unnamed U.S. asset held by the Cuban government. Aaron Blake explains at the Fix why it’s going to be hard to convince people that Gross was not traded for the three spies.

  • Katie Zezima
  • ·

In an interview with ABC News “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir,  President Obama said he just might visit the communist country before he leaves office.

“I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” Obama told Muir in a segment that will air later tonight.

If Obama does go to Cuba, he will be the only the second sitting president to travel there. Calvin Coolidge addressed the 1928 Pan-American Conference in Havana.

Read the full Post Politics post here.

  • Swati Sharma
  • ·

To understand the situation in Cuba, it is helpful to understand the country’s economy, tourism and migration. Here are two charts that explain the country’s economy. (Head to WorldViews for other graphs that help explain a few things about Cuba.

cuba

remittances

  • Nancy Scola
  • ·

Only about 5 percent of the Cuban population can get on the full global Internet, and often only through government institutions, high-end hotels and black market access.

That’s about to change. Cuba and the United States, the White House said Wednesday, have agreed to begin allowing communications devices and telecommunications services to move between the two countries. Whether the new U.S.-Cuba agreement means simply that it will be easier for Cubans to get online or whether they’ll also be freer to move around once there, remains to be seen.

Read the full post on The Switch here.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·
(Gene Thorp and Rick Noack/The Washington Post)

(Gene Thorp and Rick Noack/The Washington Post)

If the U.S. opened an embassy in Cuba, it would join many other countries who are represented there. According to the site EmbassyPages, which was last updated Nov. 25, Cuba hosts more than 100 embassies in Havana, its capital.

Countries with embassies in Cuba include Britain, France and Germany. Besides being in diplomatic contact with many European countries and U.S. allies, Havana also hosts a variety of ambassadors from countries that are considered hostile to the U.S., such as North Korea or Iran.

Foreign embassies have not always been welcomed by Cuba, as E.U. embassies in Havana used to invite dissidents to their National Day celebrations, which caused a crisis in the relations between E.U. member states and Cuba. In 2005, the Cuban government decided to restore diplomatic contacts with eight nations after E.U. foreign ministers decided to exclude dissidents from their embassy celebrations in the future.

This map shows that Cuba has restored diplomatic contacts with most countries in the world within the past years. South Korea is among the few nations that do not officially communicate with the country or do not appear to have a presence in the country, according to Cuban records.

Some of the countries that do not appear to have a presence in Cuba on our map might have arrangements, but are not listed in the governmental sources this map is based on. It is also worth noting that many states that do not have representation in Cuba do rely on associated embassies elsewhere, or have asked other countries to represent them. The United States has so far relied on an Interests Section in Havana, which is officially part of the Swiss Embassy but operates autonomously.

— Rick Noack

  • Vincent Bzdek
  • ·

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

As Alan Gross languished in a Cuban prison last year, he wrote a letter to his cousin Shelly Gross in Colorado’s ski country, thanking her for the Jewish prayers said in his honor at her synagogue.

“It is heartwarming to know that misheberachs [prayers for the sick] are being said for me, and by extension, for an improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations,” Alan wrote to Shelly in a letter dated Oct. 10, 2013. “Now if only the governments of both countries would want the same thing . . . But apparently they do not.”

Even though Gross, 65, faced numerous health problems and deprivations in a Cuba prison for the last five years, he could still write letters home, his cousins said.

Head here for more on his letters home.

  • Dan Lamothe
  • ·

President Obama’s new policy on Cuba immediately raises the question of how the Pentagon may alter its military operations in that country, both to account for changes in security and new collaboration between the two nations.

At the very least, the establishment of an embassy is likely to mean that U.S Marines will be deployed to protect it. But the United States also has maintained a 45-square-mile naval station at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba’s southeastern tip since 1903. The Communist government has long protested its existence, saying it is usurped land that was taken during the U.S. invasion of Cuba at the turn of the 19th century. But a treaty signed between the two nations in 1903 and reaffirmed in 1934 states that the United States has control of Guantanamo Bay unless it vacates or strikes a deal with Cuba that says otherwise.

Obama made no mention of the base in his remarks Wednesday. But it seems highly unlikely that the United States would give up control of a strategically valuable Navy base while  making a series of diplomatic and economic concessions to Havana that the Cubans have sought for years. An Obama administration official said the policy changes with Cuba would have no impact on the future of the base.

Read the full Checkpoint post here.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

Very early Wednesday morning, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.) woke up so that he could catch a flight from Joint Base Andrews to a small airport outside Havana. A short time later, Van Hollen and other lawmakers were escorted into a room to meet Alan Gross, an American who had been imprisoned for five years in Cuba.

Gross looked “frail,” Van Hollen told The Post’s Ed O’Keefe, “but his spirits were very high at that moment. He was clearly elated that the moment had arrived, because there’ve been lots of discussions and efforts over the last five years to bring Alan home.”

Once on board the flight home, Gross ate a sandwich and enjoyed a bowl of popcorn, one of the foods he had been craving during his captivity.

Head here for more.

  • Sean Sullivan
  • ·

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) released the following statement opposing President Obama’s plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba:

We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today’s chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama’s watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?

Unfortunately, we fear the most damaging chapter to America’s national security is still being written. We dread the day President Obama takes to the podium to announce a nuclear deal with the Iranian ayatollahs which does little, if anything, to deter their nuclear ambitions, placing our nation and our closest allies in even deeper peril.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

The world is a very different place than it was in 1961, when relations between the United States and Cuba were severed. Ishaan Tharoor explains over at WorldViews why the shift toward better relations between the two nations might be overdue:

Unlike the U.N.-authorized regime of sanctions placed on countries like Iran and North Korea, the continued American embargo of Cuba is unilateral and untargeted. It was set up not as a punishment for specific Cuban policies, but as a club with which to drive the regime in Havana out. And it hasn’t worked. The European Union now accounts for 20 percent of Cuba’s total trade. Foreign tourists abound in the country’s resorts, as do foreign missions in its capital. Cuba is hardly an international pariah.

Head to WorldViews for more.

  • Joshua Partlow and Gabriela Martinez
  • ·

MONTERREY, Mexico — Latin American leaders across the political spectrum praised President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a move that could spark more investment in the Caribbean island and ease Cold War-era resentments throughout the hemisphere.

From hard-line leftists in Venezuela to more pro-American economic powerhouses such as Mexico and Colombia, Latin Americans welcomed in glowing terms the thawing of relations between the decades-long rivals.

Venezuela’s Nicholas Maduro, the most anti-American leader in Latin America, hailed the news as a “historic victory for the Cuban people.” Venezuela has been the staunchest ally of Cuba in the region and sends it millions of barrels of oil each year, while regularly accusing the United States of attempts to destabilize the nation.

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

While the news involving the United States and Cuba has been dominated by the shift in relations between these two countries and the release of prisoner Alan Gross (as well as three Cuban nationals), there was someone else freed on Wednesday: An unidentified U.S. spy who was described by President Obama as one of the most important intelligence assets the country has had in a Communist country.

The Washington Post’s Adam Goldman reports:

Little is known about the Cuban-born spy other than he had been imprisoned for nearly two decades and had been presumably working on behalf of the either the FBI or CIA long before that….

Although U.S. intelligence is believed to have significant spy operations in Cuba, the existence of a single asset who was instrumental to so many high-profile counterintelligence cases was previously unknown.

A former senior CIA official said the spy was ranked among the United States’s best assets in Cuba, alongside an individual known as “Touchdown,” who defected in the late ’80s. Touchdown revealed that many of the CIA’s assets in Cuba were double agents.

Head here for much more.

  • Swati Sharma
  • ·
(Gene Thorp/ Washington Post)

(Gene Thorp/ Washington Post)

There are 1.9 million people in the United States who said they have Cuban ancestry. The vast majority of them live in south Florida: Miami-Dade County alone has 876,000 people who identify as Cuban. There are also sizable Cuban communities throughout Florida and in parts of New Jersey, particularly in Hudson and Union counties.

Related: Where U.S.-Cuba relations stand and what may change

According to Pew, more than half of the Cuban population arrived in this country in 1990 or after. They are the fourth-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States.

  • Michael E. Ruane, Ian Shapira and Susan Svrluga
  • ·

Alan Gross was just about at the end of the line.

Imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital for five years with arthritis and vision problems, he reportedly had lost 100 pounds, grown despondent and announced that he wanted no more visitors.

In desperation, he went on a hunger strike in April.

Gross, 65, who lived in Potomac, Md., was arrested in Cuba five years ago this month while working as an international aid contractor to improve Internet service and set up an intranet for Cuban Jewish communities. The Cuban government accused him of trying to destabilize its government by bringing  sophisticated technical equipment into the country and sentenced him to a 15-year term.

On Wednesday, he was released.

Read the full profile here. 

  • Mark Berman
  • ·

Before making his public remarks on Wednesday, Alan Gross worked on what he would say in the Washington offices of a law firm. He did so in front of a photograph of Che Guevara, who was a leader in the revolution that overthrew Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and brought communism to Cuba.

Read more at Post Nation.

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