The release of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen held in a Cuban prison for the past five years, has triggered reports that the U.S. will resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, including the lifting of travel and money-transferring restrictions.
“The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday,” according to The New York Times.
“In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to,” the report states.
CNBC reports that U.S. President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro will conduct news conferences in their respective countries within a few hours, and they could announce steps to ease the ban.
Speaking on CNBC, Crystal Cruises president and COO Edie Bornstein said the cruise line has “contingency plans in place for the inevitable,” referring to an opening with Cuba. “We all just thought it was just a matter of time.”
Bornstein said Cuba would be a “fabulous destination” from a cruise perspective if Cuba has the infrastructure in place to handle an influx of ships and tourists.
The U.S. Congress would have to approve lifting the embargo of Cuba and normalizing relations, but Obama could ease some restrictions through executive actions.
The imprisonment of Gross, a U.S. contractor held on spying charges for bringing satellite phones into Cuba, is said to have been a roadblock to any consideration of improved relations between Cuba and the U.S.
Now that Gross has been released, along with several Cubans held in the U.S., negotiations could begin on normalizing relations between the two countries. It is a development that would be bitterly opposed by Congressional conservatives and some Cuban-Americans.
The Wall Street Journal reported: “Another U.S. official said the U.S. expects to begin discussions with Cuba on normalizing relations, and that the U.S. plans to lift many of its existing travel and money-transfer restrictions affecting Cuba.”
“U.S. debit and credit cards will be allowed in Cuba, the second official said, and the U.S. will allow the export of telecommunications equipment to Cuba, while Cuba agreed to greatly expand its citizens’ access to the Internet.”
Removing restrictions on travel to Cuba, located just 90 miles from Florida and a favorite vacation spot for Europeans and Canadians, for instance, has long been on the wish list for much of the U.S. travel community.