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Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 9:17 AM | 18-12-2014

New chapter in US-Cuba relationship

A US intelligence officer imprisoned in Cuba was swapped for three of the so-called Cuban Five — a group arrested in 2001 after being dispatched to Florida to spy by then-Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Alan Gross, an American who had been languishing in a Cuban prison for five years, was released on Wednesday (17 Dec 2014) as part of what is the first step toward a massive overhaul in US policy toward Cuba, according to US media reports.

Gross, who was working for the US Agency for International Development when he was arrested in 2009 for delivering satellite phones and other communications equipment to the island’s small Jewish community, spent the last five years locked up in a Havana prison. He was set to serve 15 years but was released by Cuba on humanitarian grounds.

The deal heralds what could be historic changes in Washington’s relationship with the Castro regime, an adversary of the United States ever since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The United States has maintained a strict trade embargo against Cuba for decades, and talk of lifting it has been a third rail of American politics because both parties have feared alienating the powerful Cuban exile community in the key state of Florida.

The new agreement contains an array of far-reaching changes, including paving the way for the United States to open an embassy in Havana. A number of travel restrictions have been lifted, though tourism is still prohibited. US debit cards will now work in Cuba, and US financial institutions will be permitted to open accounts at Cuban institutions.

As far as Cuban cigars go, US travelers to Cuba will now be allowed to bring back $100 worth of tobacco products.

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