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After more than 50 years US, Cuba move to end hostility

December 18, 2014 12:30 IST

A woman celebrates with people riding in a car and holding posters of the "Cuban Five" in Havana. Photograph: Reuters

In a historic decision, President Barack Obama announced a series of steps aimed at normalising relations with communist-ruled Cuba, with which the US had severed diplomatic ties decades ago imposing a series of sanctions on its island neighbour.

The steps being taken include instructions to re-establish the US Embassy in Cuban capital Havana, relaxing of trade and travel restrictions and review of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Alan Gross embraces Tim Rieser (C, back to camera), a member of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy's office, on the tarmac as he disembarks from a U.S. government plane with wife Judy (L) at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland outside Washington December 17, 2014 in this photo courtesy of Jill Zuckman. . Photograph: Jill Zuckman/Reuters

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests. And instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas," Obama said in a television address to the country.

"Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people," he said.

A woman carries a signing reading "Obama is a murderer just like Castro" as anti-Castro activists protest in Little Havana in Miami, Florida. Photograph: Javier Galeano/Reuters

 "Today Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago. Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born," he added.

"Consider that for more than 35 years, we've had relations with China, a far larger country also governed by a communist party. Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation," said the US president as he explained to the American people his decision to change US policy on Cuba.

A man sits at his home watching Cuba's President Raul Castro speak during a television broadcast in Havana. Photograph: Reuters

The announcement came as two American citizens, one of them a spy, was released by Cuba in a prisoner swap.

"All, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach. I've instructed Secretary (John) Kerry to review Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law," he said.

People gather outside a building of the Provincial Assembly of the People's Power for news updates, in Havana. Photograph: Reuters

The US implemented an economic embargo against Cuba in 1960, that remains to this day.

People are seen on a street in Havana December 17, 2014. Stunned Cubans celebrated an apparent end to decades of conflict with the United States on Wednesday after both governments said they would restore diplomatic relations cut off in 1961. Photograph: Reuters

Cuban-US relations reach a critical or crucial stage with the Caribbean Missile Crisis. In February 1963, the US adopted the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. Restrictions became the principal US policy lever with regard to Cuba.

A woman walks past a bicycle taxi with the U.S. and Cuban flags in Havana. Photograph: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

In 1980, after the Cuban government opens its coast for anyone to leave with a permit, nearly 125,000 Cubans flee to the USA. It was known as the 1980 Cuban Exodus.

People cheer for the "Cuban Five" in Havana December 17, 2014. After 18 months of secret talks facilitated by the Vatican and Canada, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed by phone on Tuesday on a prisoner exchange and the opening of embassies in each other's countries. Photograph: Reuters

In 1994, Cuba and the US come to an immigration agreement that the US will accept 20,000 Cubans annually, contingent that the Cuban government controls the exodus of Cuban refugees.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro (L) and his brother Raul attend the 20th anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution at Revolution Square in Havana in this February 1, 1979 file photograph. Photograph: Reuters

After Hurricane Michelle slams the Cuban coast, in 2001, the US exports food to Cuba for the first time in 40 years. In April 2009, President Obama eases travel restriction to Cuba.