U.S.-Cuba relations, tense for half a century, are about to fundamentally change.
Alan Gross, the American contractor who has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, will be released to the United States by the Cuban government, the White House announced Wednesday. The so-called "humanitarian release" will coincide with an exchange of three Cubans convicted of espionage in Miami for one unnamed U.S. intelligence asset.
The announcement of Gross' release comes with much broader-reaching news: the U.S. is preparing a shift in its relationship with Cuba and is set to begin talks to normalize diplomatic relations. President Obama spoke on Gross' release and the change in the diplomatic relationship at noon. Cuban President Raul Castro spoke at the same time separately.
The U.S., which has had a tight trade embargo on Cuba since 1961, is now set to announce a loosening of economic and travel restrictions. The Obama administration is also looking to set up an embassy in the Cuban capital of Havana "in the coming months," the White House says.
Restrictions on certain kinds of travel will be greatly loosened, but limitations will not be lifted altogether. Any travel that falls into 12 approved categories can go ahead fairly easily, according to a senior administration official. Those categories include family visits, official government business, and trips for journalistic, educational and research purposes. The exemptions also include humanitarian travel, among a few other categories.