On December 17, President Barack Obama and Raul Castro, President of the Council of State of Cuba, made the historic announcement that their administrations intend to fully restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States of America.
Commenting on strained relations with the communist nation ever since the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, Obama said that, “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach… We intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.” (view the full speech below)
Yesterday, the Obama administration confirmed that a major milestone in restoring relations with Cuba has been reached when the country officially released all of the 53 prisoners it had promised to free as part of the new deal.
“We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
The list of released captives, which human rights groups have titled “prisoners of conscience,” consists of people who had peacefully exercised internationally protected freedom of expression and assembly to spark political and social reform in Cuba.
Demanding the release of these prisoners, after 18 months of negotiations that successfully ended in a final meeting hosted by the Vatican in December, was part of U.S. negotiators’ strategy to find out if Cuba was ready to improve its human rights record.
In fact, Cuba released 17 of the “prisoners of conscience” before the U.S. signed the historic new deal in Havana last month.
“This list (of 53) is not to be seen as the end of our discussion on human rights with the government of Cuba,” state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said making it clear that on-going conversations will be necessary.
High-level negotiations will begin in Havana on January 21, which will include discussions on human rights, potential areas of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and next steps in boosting the flow of travel and commerce between the two nations.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead the talks.
For now, the United States reiterated that the release of all 53 prisoners is a “very positive development.”