Washington, Dec 18: US President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country which has earned its wrath for decades now because of reasons related to the Cold War, vowing to cut loose the shackles of history. [Full text of President Obama's speech]
The announcement that looked surprising for many, came after secret talks that took place over a period of one-and-half years resulting in exchange of prisoners negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and culminated in the telephonic conversation between Obama and Raul Castro, the Cuban president and brother of legendary revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
The historic deal between the two maritime neighbours broke decades of stalemate. The two countries witnessed an era of hostility and mutual distrust dating since the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898 and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that almost pushed the world into the Third World War.
Obama said in a nationally televised statement that it was time to end an outdated approach that continued for decades and hit the USA's interests. He said the new approach towards Cuba would start a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.
The US continued to impose a trade embargo on Cuba for over five decades now.
Barack Obama did what his last 10 predecessors refused to do and the Republicans were quick to term the move as an appeasement. The Republicans who recently took control of the Senate said they would oppose the move to lift the trade embargo.
"This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people," the New York Times quoted Florida's Republican Senator Marco Rubio as saying. Rubio is a son of Cuban immigrants.
"All this is going to do is give the Castro regime, which controls every aspect of Cuban life, the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate itself in power," he said.
Fidel Castro's storming to power in Cuba and the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion undertaken by a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group to overthrow Castro's revolutionary left-wing government in 1961 made the small island-nation the USA's biggest foe in the Western Hemisphere. Castro's alliance with the erstwhile Soviet Union worsened the situation and it culminated in the missile crisis of 1962.
The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 almost turned the cold War into a hot war
US President Dwight D Eisenhower imposed the first trade embargo on Cuba in 1960 and severed the diplomatic relations with Havana in January next year. It was during the tenure of his successor John F Kennedy that the Pay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis took place.