The United States will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama announced last week, ending he said "an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries." The announcement was the result of secret eighteen-month negotiations between the two governments aided by Pope Francis that involved a prisoner swap as well as the release of imprisoned Cuban political dissidents and, separately on humanitarian grounds, American contractor Alan Gross.
The next steps will involve re-establishing the US Embassy in Havana in the coming months and high-level diplomatic talks between the two governments under the leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that the move to restore relations (severed in January 1961) is the "best way to help bring freedom and opportunity to the Cuban people, and to promote America's national security interests in the Americas, including greater regional stability and economic opportunities for American businesses."
While the US trade embargo will need congressional action to be fully lifted, President Obama's actions will facilitate the expansion of travel to Cuba by US nationals under the general travel licenses (which, incidentally, is how Jay-Z and Beyoncé traveled to Cuba), ease travel for Americans for business purposes, facilitate authorized financial transactions between the US and Cuba as well as the use of American debit and credit cards in Cuba, and expand commercial sales and exports to and from the US.
Cuban President Raúl Castro praised the move but "told his nation that the change did not mean the end of communist rule in Cuba."