President Barack Obama: Good morning, everybody. Â Please have a seat.
More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana. Â Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. Â This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.
When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I donâ€™t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened. Â After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people. Â But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.
For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Â Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -â€“ cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. Â The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we donâ€™t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isnâ€™t working, we can -â€“ and will â€“- change.
Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship. Â As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies. Â Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal. Â And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.
This is not merely symbolic. Â With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. Â Weâ€™ll have more personnel at our embassy. Â And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. Â That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.
On issues of common interest â€“- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -â€“ we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba. Â And Iâ€™ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. Â That will include Americaâ€™s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. Â And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.
However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement. Â Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba. Â And we will continue to do so going forward.
Since December, weâ€™ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday. Â Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement. Â One Cuban said, â€œI have prepared for this all my life.â€ Â Another said that that, â€œthis is like a shot of oxygen.â€ Â One Cuban teacher put it simply: Â â€œWe are neighbors. Â Now we can be friends.â€
Here in the United States, weâ€™ve seen that same enthusiasm. Â There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses who want to invest in Cuba. Â American colleges and universities that want to partner with Cuba. Â Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives. Â One Cuban American looked forward to â€œreuniting families and opening lines of communications.â€ Â Another put it bluntly: Â â€œYou canâ€™t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.â€
And thatâ€™s what this is about: Â a choice between the future and the past.
Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward. Â I believe itâ€™s time for Congress to do the same. Â Iâ€™ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba. Â Weâ€™ve already seen members from both parties begin that work. Â After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?
Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. Â But itâ€™s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesnâ€™t work. Â It hasnâ€™t worked for 50 years. Â It shuts America out of Cubaâ€™s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.
So Iâ€™d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people. Â Listen to the American people. Â Listen to the words of a proud Cuban American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, â€œI wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.â€
Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights. Â Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. Â Itâ€™s what inspires the world to reach for something better.
A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. Â This is what change looks like.
In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said: Â It is my hope and my conviction that it is â€œin the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.â€ Â Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come. Â And a better future lies ahead.
Thank you very much. Â And I want to thank some of my team who worked diligently to make this happen. Â Theyâ€™re here. Â They donâ€™t always get acknowledged. Â Weâ€™re really proud of them. Â Good work.