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CUBA STANDARD — In the wake of a prisoner swap that freed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross and the remaining three of the Cuban Five, the White House announced steps to ease the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The executive steps include establishing full diplomatic relations, possibly removing Cuba from the Department of State’s list of “terror-sponsoring nations,” an expansion of the list of permitted U.S. export goods; allowing U.S. banks to open corresponding accounts at Cuban financial institutions; allowing Cuba to pay for U.S. food imports upon arrival, rather than in advance; allowing the export of U.S. telecommunications appliances and devices and allowing U.S. telecoms to offer their services in Cuba; an expansion of application-free travel for U.S. citizens and residents; allowing travelers to use U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba; an increase of remittance limits; freeing remittance forwarders of licensing obligations; allowing U.S. travelers to bring back small amounts of Cuban goods; and broader cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and human trafficking,

“Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people,” a press statement about the “Updated Policy Approach” said. “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.”

Ironically, the same day news broke that Germany’s Commerzbank agreed to a billion-dollar settlement with U.S. sanctions enforcers, in part over transactions with Cuba.

The U.S. government got “no concessions,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, saying the Obama Administration is “coddling dictators and tyrants.”

While the executive can take limited steps and send a strong political signal, the body of U.S. sanctions against Cuba is enshrined in laws, and it is ultimately up to Congress to ease or lift the embargo.

“At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba,” the White House statement continued. “Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”

“It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”

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