Washington has said it plans to reopen full diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions that were imposed in 1961. But what does this mean?
Barack Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to initiate discussions with Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations, which were cut in January 1961. The US hopes to open a full embassy in Havana. It currently operates an “interests section”, technically from the premises of the Swiss Embassy. A senior US official to travel to Cuba in 2015 for US-Cuba migration talks.
This is the moment that 11 million Cuban and 300 million Americans have dreamed of for decades - and the moment that the leaders of dozens of other Caribbean islands have dreaded. President Obama has vowed to chart “a new course on Cuba” - overturning half a century of an economic embargo that proved painful for both sides yet was ultimately ineffective in toppling the Castro regime.
Initially, the steps outlined by the US leader look relatively small: legitimate visitors to the island will now be able to return with Havana Club rum and Havana cigars. But the genie is now out of the bottle: when the dust has settled on the prisoner swaps and diplomatic rapprochement the most significant effect will be on travel, transforming the tourist geography of the Caribbean. Those of the 300 million Americans who want a tropical island holiday are likely to head for Cuba, rather than flying over it to less interesting and beautiful places - all of which will cause dismay in islands from Aruba to Jamaica.
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
1/19 Cuba timeline
July 1953: Fidel Castro begins a revolutionary campaign against the regime of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista
2/19 Cuba timeline
January 1959: Castro and Che Guevara enter Havana after a successful final offensive. Batista flees, and Castro becomes prime minister, ruling by decree
3/19 Cuba timeline
October 1960: Castro’s reforms sees hundreds of US businesses in Cuba nationalised and their owners not compensated. In December, US US breaks off diplomatic relations and imposes a trade embargo
4/19 Cuba timeline
April 1961: Cuban exiles launch the Bay of Pigs invasion with US backing
5/19 Cuba timeline
October 1962: A 13-day confrontation known as the Cuban missile crisis begins when Castro allows the USSR to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. Generally regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear war
6/19 Cuba timeline
1962: US President John F Kennedy signs off a naval blockade
7/19 Cuba timeline
April 1980: A sharp downturn in the Cuban economy and Castro temporarily lifting restrictions sees around 125,000 people, many of them released convicts, flee to the US
8/19 Cuba timeline
February 1996: Cuba shoots down two US aircraft operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles, prompting the US to make its trade embargo permanent
9/19 Cuba timeline
June 2001: The case of the “Cuban Five” begins, as five spies in Miami are convicted of providing intelligence to the Havana government
10/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2001: US sells $30m of food to the Cuban government to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, which killed 22 people, the first food export between the countries for more than 40 years
11/19 Cuba timeline
Oct 2003: US President George W Bush announces fresh anti-communist measures, including tightening the travel embargo and creating a new government body, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba
12/19 Cuba timeline
Aug 2006: President Bush seizes the opportunity of President Castro’s illness and a handover of powers to Raul Castro, urging Cubans to work towards democratic change
13/19 Cuba timeline
Feb 2008: Raul Castro officially takes over as president. Washington responds by saying its trade embargo will remain in force unless free and fair elections are held
14/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2008: A poll by Florida International University suggests for the first time that a majority of Cuban-Americans living in Miami want an end to the embargo
15/19 Cuba timeline
April 2009: President Obama lifts restrictions on family travel to Cuba
16/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2009: US aid worker Alan Gross is detained in Cuba on suspicion of spying for Washington
17/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2010: American Ballet Theatre performs in Cuba for the first time in 50 years, the most high-profile in a series of cultural exchanges
18/19 Cuba timeline
Sep 2012: Cuba hints at its willingness to do a deal with Washington on the Gross case
19/19 Cuba timeline
December 2013: President Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Castro says in English: “Mr President, I am Castro.” It was hailed in Cuba as “the beginning of the end” for what were then described as “US aggressions”
US institutions will be able to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial offices to facilitate processing of authorised transactions. Crucially, American credit cards may now legally be used in Cuba.
The US bank accounts of Cuban nationals who have moved outside of Cuba will be unblocked.
The US has released three Cubans convicted of spying. Gerardo Hernandez, Luis Medina, and Antonio Guerrero, the three remaining members of the so-called Cuban Five were released on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, two Americans, Alan Gross, a contractor with USAid who had been held by Cuba for five years, and an unidentified Cuban who had worked for US intelligence and was jailed by Cuba, were also released.
The US will make it easier for Americans to obtain licenses to do business in Cuba, officials said.
Licensed travelers can bring back $400 in Cuban goods, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol for personal use.
The overall trade ban can only be lifted by Congress, but Mr Obama said he was ready for a conversation on the issue.
US will be permitted to send up to $2,000 per quarter to Cuban nationals and humanitarian projects, an increase from $500. Licenses will no longer be required.
US will increase efforts to make internet access more available and affordable. Only five per cent of Cubans have access to the internet and costs are prohibitive. Telecommunications providers will be permitted to establish commercial infrastructure.Reuse content