President Obama has implemented sweeping changes in the US-Cuba relationship since December 17, 2014. From alleviating certain restrictions on trade and travel to raising the remittance cap, the President has paved the way for a more normalized relationship. As he prepares for his historic visit to Cuba this fact sheet highlights the most crucial changes implemented in the past 15 months.





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With presidential races heating up in key primary states, the Atlantic Council's new US-Cuba poll of voters in America's heartland finds majority support in both parties for further opening trade, travel, and investment with Cuba. Voters in Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa—though they largely consider the United States on the 'wrong track'—strongly favor lifting trade and travel restrictions and endorse the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. Among the 70 percent of voters who do not approve of the country's direction, 58 percent are in favor of President Obama's new Cuba policies. The support in these states—important because of senior congressional delegations or weight in presidential politics—constitutes a major victory for the President's executive actions over the last year.

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In this month’s Spotlight, we ask: What will be the top headlines at the VII Summit of the Americas?

The Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 is generating an unprecedented amount of attention, thanks in large part to the dramatic changes in the US-Cuba relationship. Though historic, the novelty of seeing Cuban President Raúl Castro and US President Barack Obama at the same table is sure to wear off after the first photo, and the region's attention will quickly turn to other pressing matters.

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President Barack Obama's decision to transform the U.S. relationship with Cuba has obvious implications for the few remaining countries that lack normal diplomatic ties with the United States, especially Iran.

While there are many differences between a resource-poor island of 11 million people 90 miles off the coast of Florida and a large, oil-rich nation of 80 million that is thousands of miles from U.S. shores, regimes in both countries have based their ideological legitimacy in large part on opposing the United States.

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President Barack Obama's executive order today dramatically alters Cuba policy in a manner likely to advance individual freedom and democratic change. In taking steps to pursue direct engagement with a country just 90 miles off our coast, the president's actions will open access to information, increase exchanges, boost private enterprise, and accelerate democracy. Once walls are torn down – like with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union – the truth becomes hard to hide. The beginning of the end of the island's authoritarian legacy will come because Cubans will now more easily see what is beyond their shores.

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In the last month, President Obama has used executive orders to address the two largest structural impediments to better US relations with Latin America; immigration, and Cuba. We commend his leadership on both counts. Today, nearly 55 years of ineffective Cuba sanctions policy has come to an end.

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The actions taken by President Obama today are the effective end of a policy that for nearly 55 years has failed to produce real, democratic change in Cuba. The embargo now exists in name only.

The freeing of Alan Gross and an unnamed US intelligence asset has opened the door for relaxing restrictions on banking, remittances, and travel. This, along with the restoration of diplomatic relations, will move Cuba further down the path of reform. After the review process, Cuba should be expected to be removed from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which will open the island to the reform pressures that come with the access this brings to international financial institutions. Engagement is what brings about change and will eventually allow Cubans to one day live in a free society.

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How would both the United States and Cuba attending the Summit of the Americas impact their relationship?

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For the past two decades, the Summit of the Americas has convened the western hemisphere’s heads of state without the participation of Cuba. That is likely about to change. In April 2015, Panama will host the next summit. An invitation will be extended to the Cuban government.

The United States has long opposed Cuba’s participation in the summit—and President Obama has yet to confirm the United States’ attendance—but all signs indicate that both he and President Raúl Castro will be there. In December 2013, they briefly shook hands at the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela. That encounter caused a lot of commotion and no policy change. Will the summit be different?

This meeting is ripe with opportunities for the countries to attack each other. The United States is pushing to add a civil society component to the agenda that puts democracy front and center. Cuba could use the economic discussions to highlight the damage caused by the US trade embargo. But the summit could also present an opportunity to implement policy options that reduce tensions and open the door for further cooperation.

In this month’s Spotlight we ask: How would both the United States and Cuba attending the Summit of the Americas impact their relationship?

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