The U.S. will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, ending a half-century of Cold War estrangement with the Communist nation just 90 miles off the Florida coast, President Obama said Wednesday. The thaw was the result of 18 months of hush-hush talks between the two nations, including secret meetings in Canada and the personal involvement of Pope Francis. The sudden and shocking change in policy was announced simultaneously by Obama in Washington and Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana at midday after a phone call between the two leaders and the release of an American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for five years. TIMELINE: Key moments in the U.S.-Cuba relationship As part of the policy shift, Obama is easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, including for family visits, official government business and educational activities, and he is seeking to expand economic ties. The longstanding ban on Cuba’s famous cigars is also gone; American travelers will be able to return home with up to $100 of tobacco or alcohol products from the island for personal consumption. But normal tourist travel remains banned. It all represents an extraordinary undertaking by Obama without Congress’ authorization as he begins the final years of his presidency…. Read full this story
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