"It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba," reads a White House fact sheet released December 17. With that, President Barack Obama announced the result of months of secret negotiations: an official effort to normalize relations between two long-estranged countries.
Policy changes will include reopening an embassy in Havana and allowing increased remittances to be sent from the U.S. to Cuban nationals. The State Department will also be reviewing Cuba's formal designation as a state sponsor of terror.
The changes fall short of ending the embargo, which would require an act of Congress. Nor will they completely eliminate the travel ban. Pure tourism by Americans—a stay at one of the Caribbean nation's beach resorts, for instance—remains prohibited. People who wish to go to Cuba will still have to qualify under one of 12 "existing categories," such as journalism, religious activities, or humanitarian projects, although larger numbers are expected to be approved within those designations.
The Obama administration says the changes are aimed at further empowering the Cuban people. The island nation's president, Raul Castro, insists that Communist rule will continue and has called on Obama not to meddle in his country's sovereign affairs.