President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies in Washington, D.C. and Havana on July 20—a move he said would begin "a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
"We don't have to be imprisoned by the past," Obama said in a press briefing from the White House Rose Garden. "Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward."
As news outlets noted, the embassy agreement marks the biggest tangible step toward normalizing relations since the surprise announcement in December that the U.S. and Cuba were restarting diplomatic ties after five decades of hostility. The U.S. broke off relations with Cuba on Jan. 3, 1961 after the relationship between the two countries had steadily deteriorated since the 1959 Cuban revolution.
According to the Miami Herald: "The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks—two in Havana and two in Washington—to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization."
The peace group CodePink, which has been vocal in its support for normalization of relations between the countries, hailed the embassy announcement as an "encouraging act of diplomacy."
However, CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin said more remains to be done and warned that "everything that President Obama has done can be undone by the next president."
For that reason, CodePink is calling on Congress to immediately pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act—which would allow Americans to travel to Cuba just as they are allowed to travel anywhere else in the world—as well as a bill to lift the financial embargo and "finally [put] to rest the Helms Burton Act that codified the failed American policy of isolation and hostilities."
"Congress must now step up and pass the needed legislation to finally put an end to the antiquated policies towards Cuba that have failed for 54 years," Benjamin said.
In May, the U.S. took another important step toward normalization by removing Cuba from its list of "state sponsors of terror."
The Miami Herald reported separately that flights between Key West International Airport and Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, which restarted in March, are "off to a strong start."