President Barack Obama talks with Ricardo Zuñiga, National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, after the President delivered a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross in the Oval Office, Dec. 17. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Atticus Morris

In a stunning reversal to five decades of foreign policy, President Obama announced Dec. 17, that the United States will “normalize” relationships with Cuba.

The announcement came with news that the United States has agreed to exchange three members of the so-called “Cuban 5” for an imprisoned U.S. contractor named Alan Gross, and an unnamed U.S. intelligence officer who has been a Cuban prisoner for 20 years.

Obama argued that the policy of pushing the Cuban government to collapse has failed.

“After more than 50 years, it is clear that policy of isolating Cuba is serving neither the interests of the American people nor the democratic aspirations of the Cubans,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement on Dec. 17. “We must acknowledge our policy towards Cuba is a relic of a bygone era that weakens our leadership in the Americas and has not advanced freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”

The historic change in diplomacy means that, among other things, the United States will establish an embassy in Cuba and begin sending high-ranking U.S. officials to meet with Cuban officials. The United States will also review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, and begin taking steps toward increasing commerce, travel and the flow of information to and from Cuba.

While he does not expect an overnight transformation of Cuban society, the President said that a “policy of engagement” will more effectively help Cuban people to help themselves.

He also announced that Cuba will join the other nations of the western hemisphere in April 2015 at the Summit of the Americas.