July 20 marks the completion of the first year of restored diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. What have we accomplished? This historic breakthrough has allowed us to more effectively advance U.S. interests and values with our southern neighbor. Since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba have expanded cooperation in areas such as the environment, transportation, agriculture, health, and law enforcement. Numerous high-level U.S. officials have visited Cuba to deepen relations, including President Obama, five cabinet secretaries, Members of Congress, governors, and mayors. Hundreds of representatives of U.S. civil society, business, and religious communities have also visited. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are interacting with the Cuban people through educational and cultural exchanges for the first time. We have made progress in many areas, but will continue to work through remaining challenges, including human rights, claims, and the return of fugitives.
Other accomplishments and notable events in the past year include:
- Re-Opening of Embassies: The United States and Cuba re-opened their respective embassies on July 20, 2015. When Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Havana to raise the U.S. flag at our Embassy for the first time since 1961, he said, “President Obama and President Castro made a courageous decision to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow.” Subsequently, the United States and Cuba launched a Bilateral Commission to meet regularly to advance the normalization process; the Commission has already met on three occasions in Havana and Washington, D.C.
- Presidential Visit to Cuba: President Obama traveled to Cuba March 20-22, and his historic visit showed our commitment to normalizing relations with Cuba. While there, the President spoke directly to the Cuban people and said “I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. The differences between our governments over the many years are real and they are important… we also need to recognize how much we share. Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.” He also spoke about our continued support for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Cuba.
- Scheduled Air Service: The United States and Cuba reached a bilateral arrangement to establish regularly scheduled air services, in addition to charter flights between the two countries. The reintroduction of scheduled services after over 50 years will provide more travel options for authorized travelers and promote more people-to-people links between both countries. On June 10, the Department of Transportation (DOT) approved six U.S. airlines to begin flights between five U.S. cities and nine Cuban cities (not including Havana) as early as this fall. Additionally, on July 7, DOT issued a proposal for eight U.S. airlines to begin service between Havana and 10 different U.S. cities; DOT plans to reach a final decision on Havana routes later this summer.
- Regulatory Changes: The embargo is still in place, and President Obama has repeatedly called upon Congress to end it. Meanwhile, the Administration has taken steps within its authority to ease certain travel, trade, and financial transaction restrictions applicable to Cuba. The four tranches of significant regulatory changes since the President’s announcement on December 17, 2014 have made it easier for U.S. persons to engage with their Cuban counterparts to provide resources and share information to help Cuba’s private sector continue to grow. The changes also make it easier for U.S. persons to travel to Cuba for authorized purposes and strengthen people-to-people ties. S. travel to Cuba has increased significantly over the past year. The United States and Cuba have held three dialogues on regulatory issues to present information on the regulatory changes and address ways both countries can work together within the existing legal framework.
- Educational, Professional and Cultural Exchange: President Obama’s policy direction supports more interaction between our peoples. This year’s highlights include the announcement of a new $1 million commitment from the Cuban-American community to support young Cubans to study in the United States; the inclusion of Cubans participating for the first time in U.S. fellowship programs; and the participation of young Cuban leaders and entrepreneurs in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Cuba’s rich and diverse culture will be featured at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in summer 2017 in Washington, D.C.
- Direct Transportation of Mail: Direct transportation of mail between the United States and Cuba resumed on March 16, after a 53 year hiatus, increasing social and commercial ties between our countries.
- Claims: The U.S. and Cuban governments have begun a dialogue to resolve outstanding claims. The next meeting will take place soon in Washington, D.C., during which the two sides will have an opportunity to build upon the exchange that took place in Havana, Cuba last year. The meeting is the next step in a long-term process, but resolving claims remains a top U.S. priority for normalization.
- Internet and Telecommunications: As a key component of the President’s goal to increase the Cuban people’s access to information and consistent with regulatory changes by the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce, several U.S. telecommunications companies have begun providing data and roaming services in Cuba. The U.S. Coordinator for International Communication and Information Policy, Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, has visited Cuba twice to discuss internet and telecommunications policy with Cuban officials.
- Health Cooperation: In June, both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on public health that will help facilitate cooperation in the battle against diseases such as the Zika virus and cancer. During the visit of the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort to Haiti in September, U.S. and Cuban medical professionals worked side-by-side to provide care to Haitians.
- Agriculture: S. businesses export hundreds of millions of dollars of agricultural goods to Cuba. In March, the United States and Cuba signed an arrangement for cooperation on agriculture.
- Environment: The United States and Cuba are working together to protect the environment and safeguard fragile marine protected areas. In November 2015, we signed a joint statement on environmental protection cooperation and a memorandum establishing a long-term, cooperative relationship between marine protected areas in Cuba, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Law Enforcement Cooperation: The United States continues to work with Cuba to expand law enforcement cooperation through the Law Enforcement Dialogue. As part of the process, the Department of Homeland Security signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba’s Ministry of Interior to improve security in travel and trade issues. We have improved our ability to share law enforcement-related information and coordinate activities. S. and Cuban counterparts also held technical exchanges on fraud identification and human smuggling, money laundering, counter terrorism, counternarcotics, and cybercrime.
- Maritime Navigation: The Florida Straits is one of the most heavily traveled bodies of water in the world. With the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on hydrography and nautical charting in March, the United States and Cuba took a proactive step to help to improve the safety of mariners and boaters of all nations. Negotiations are also underway to delimit the unresolved maritime boundary between the United States, Mexico, and Cuba.