President Barack Obama formally announced on Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have both agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals, branding the move “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.”
The American Embassy in Havana is scheduled to open on July 20, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said, according to Fox News.
The U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the re-establishment of embassies following a surprise announcement in December that secret talks between the global foes had led to a landmark agreement.
The move came after Havana released Jewish-American contractor Alan Gross in exchange for three Cubans held in the United States for spying.
“As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the reestablishment of embassies,” Obama said, according to Fox News.
“Since then our State Department has worked hard with our Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal and later this summer Secretary (John) Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
As part of the move to normalize ties, the United States recently officially dropped Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism, allowing the country to have better access to American banking facilities and aid, and meaning a ban on arms exports and sales is also lifted.
Washington has also authorized commercial ferry services to Cuba for the first time in more than a half-century.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), has vowed to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador unless “substantive progress is made” on human rights issues that have dogged Cuba for decades.
“Establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime without verified improvements in the [human rights] situation faced by the Cuban people would not be consistent with our values as a nation and the intent of the U.S. Congress, as codified in law,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and quoted by Fox News.
While the president has power over establishing embassies, nominations for ambassador must go through a Senate confirmation vote.
Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) also expressed her opposition to the move, adding that opening a U.S. Embassy in Cuba misses the mark and “will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”
Another lawmaker who is opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who described the move as a “mistake” after it was announced.
"Look at Vietnam," he said. "We normalized relations with them and they are a Communist regime that still represses people. Sometimes engagement works, sometimes it doesn't."