United States, Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Relations, Ease Travel Restrictions

The New York Times and other major news sources are reporting that the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years. The announcement followed the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican (and is the first Pope from Latin America), U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.

Washington and Havana have no diplomatic relations and the United States has maintained a trade embargo on Cuba since the 1950s. According to Reuters, a senior congressional aide said Obama would ease the embargo and travel restrictions that prevent most Americans from visiting the island.

As CNN pointed out, this restoration will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business with the Cuban people by extending general licenses. While the more liberal travel restrictions won't allow for tourism, they will permit greater American travel to the island. It is worth noting that Wednesday's announcement comes just months ahead of the March 2015 Summit of the Americas, in which Cuba is set to participate for the first time. Previously, Washington has vetoed Havana's participation on the grounds it is not a democracy, but CNN noted that this year, several countries have said they would not participate if Cuba was once again barred.

As the Times noted, the American embargo on Cuba seems set to remain in place for the time being. Still, the administration signaled that it "would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to."

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for updates on this development.