news Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | December 18, 2014 | 5.30 pm IST

Havana: Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the re-establishment of diplomatic ties with the US, broken since 1961, in a historic move that has taken Cubans by surprise but which paves the way towards the long-awaited end of the economic embargo choking the weakened Cuban economy.

Castro announced Wednesday the resumption of diplomatic ties with the US after more than 50 years of hostility, in an appearance on Cuban television with a simultaneous appearance by President Barack Obama from Washington.

"This does not mean that the main thing is resolved. The economic, commercial and financial blockade that causes enormous human and economic damage to our country must cease," said Castro.

Castro proposed to the US to adopt mutual steps to improve the bilateral climate and move towards the normalisation of ties, something that could be achieved with the early opening of respective embassies in Havana and Washington.

Delegations from the US and Cuba began secret talks more than a year ago to explore the normalisation of relations -- in Canada and facilitated by the personal involvement of Pope Francis and the Vatican.

As a result of these meetings, the parties agreed to the release of US contractor Alan Gross, imprisoned in the island for subversive acts for five years; and three jailed Cubans belonging to the group "Los Cinco" (The Cuban Five) convicted of espionage.

The three Cubans -- Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon LabaƱino and Antonio Guerrero -- were freed in exchange for an intelligence officer of Cuban origin who worked for the US and had been a prisoner for nearly 20 years in Cuba.

Cuba also pledged to free more than 50 political prisoners, according to Castro.

Following the announcement, Havana remained calm with a small celebration to mark the historic day which will change the direction of the island, since it is possible to speed up the economic reform process, already undertaken to upgrade the Socialist model.

"We hope that there are concrete steps or commitments relating to human rights," said dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, a former political prisoner of the "Group of 75" leading the opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba.

Whether they are for or against the decision to reconcile with the US, the news certainly caught the Cuban population by surprise.

Although in recent months, small gestures were pointing to a rapproachment, nothing presaged something so rapid in a country where change occurs slowly.

--IANS/EFE

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