Cuban President Raul Castro gave a speech Wednesday to say that relations between Cuba and the United States will be reset.
“We have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations, but this does not mean that the main issue has been resolved, the blockade that generates economic losses and humanitarian problems in our country must stop,” Castro said.
He said that the ongoing Cuban revolution is supported by the population, saying, “Cubans have courageously shown that, despite the adversities, they are committed to the Revolution,” he said of the form of governance that has long-been criticized by the U.S.
“We should take mutual steps to advance towards the normalization of the relationship between both countries” he said.
He called on President Obama to lift the half-century economic blockade saying, “The President could modify its implementation by using his executive powers,” and in a sign of the improved relations added, “We will continue discussing these issues in the future.”
Negotiations between Cuba and the United States began 18 months ago, with the encouragement of Pope Francis. The secret talks were hosted in Canada, and a final meeting took place in the Vatican.
During the negotiations, both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke over the phone and agreed to restart relations between both countries.
Earlier on Wednesday, Cuba released US spy Alan Gross and the United States freed the Cuban five antiterrorists, held in US prisons since 1998.
Read more: Who are the Cuban Five?
Cuba arrested Gross, now 65, on Dec. 3, 2009, and later convicted the USAID subcontractor to 15 years in prison for trying to establish clandestine internet service. Gross was subcontracted by private firm Development Alternatives, Inc., which was subcontracted by USAID to provide "humanitarian assistance.”
USAID has long tried to infiltrate Cuba via various programs in order to affect soft change on the island. The United States has spent US$264 million over the last 18 years, in successive efforts to oust the Cuban government.
The U.S. more overt economic blockade on Cuba, harshly criticized by the international community for many years, has been in situ since the early days of the Cold War, when U.S. anti-communist hysteria was at its peak.
There has been growing pressure from within the United States to end the blockade. Ahead of the speech, both Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democrat Senator Richard Durbin both announced, through separate statements, that both countries could normalize trade relations.