President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that Cuba and U.S. embassies will open this month following negotiations between the government’s diplomats. The announcement is the most concrete step in a six-month thaw of the Cold-War era policies that dogged the U.S-Cuba relationship. It follows months of negotiation over American diplomatic access to Cuban citizens, and Cuban diplomatic access to basic services in the U.S. Cuba media broadcast Obama’s announcement, which followed letters confirming the arrangement, hand-delivered by members of the U.S. State Department, the AP reports.
“Later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana, formally, to proudly raise the [American] flag over our embassy once more,” Obama said. “I’ve been clear that we’ll continue to have some very serious differences,” he continued, stressing that the U.S. would continue to call Cuba out on human rights and free speech issues. Acknowledging critics who oppose his administration’s thaw he said that that previous efforts to isolate Cuba had not work concluding that “This is what change looks like.”
News of the announcement broke on Tuesday night. The move followed a series of public diplomatic baby steps that started with Obama’s announcement in December that his government was negotiating with the communist island nation in the pursuit of a more open relationship. To clear the way for the embassies to open, Obama removed Cuba from the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism. His administration also loosened travel requirements for U.S. citizens, who will no longer need to apply to visit the island.