by John Haylett and Luke James for Morning Star

OVER half a century of US hostility to Cuban independence ended yesterday when Barack Obama vowed to cancel an outdated approach that has failed to advance US interests.Simultaneous press conferences by President Obama in Washington and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro in Havana signaled the official beginning of a new bilateral relationship.But the fruits of that new dawn had already been tasted by the families of three Cuban patriots held unjustly for 16 years in US prisons who were flown to their homeland. Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino were able to enjoy the freedom previously savoured by fellow Miami 5 members Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez, who were released in 2014 and 2011 respectively.

Similar joy was experienced by the family of US agent Alan Gross, who was jailed in Havana five years ago for working on a secretive USAid contract to build an internet communications network under the noses of the Cuban government.He has been held in hospital since his conviction and has previously expressed his bitterness at being duped by USAid and abandoned by his government.Washington also released three other people convicted of spying for Cuba — Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers — while Havana freed an unnamed US intelligence asset of non-US citizenship who had been held for 20 years.

President Castro welcomed the restoration of relations, but confirmed that profound differences remain between the two states in areas such as human rights, foreign policy and sovereignty.
But he said that countries have to learn to live with their differences “in a civilised manner.”
President Obama told his audience: “Isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.” The US will reopen an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges. Washington is also easing travel restrictions for family visits, official US government business and educational activities, although tourism remains banned.Licensed US travelers will be able to return to the US with $400 (£256) in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 (£64). This means the ban on Cuban cigars is over, but with limits.

The amount US citizens can send to Cuba will also quadruple to $2,000 (£1,279) every three months.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the announcement as a “rare, if overdue, example of common sense prevailing over petty politics.“We are delighted that the remaining members of the Cuban Five are free and will be able to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones, from whom they have for too long been kept apart.” She hoped that President Obama would “move immediately to end the decades-long illegal embargo which has blighted so many lives.”

Cuba Solidarity Campaign director Rob Miller was overjoyed by the return of the Cuban patriots to their homeland, saying: “It’s absolutely brilliant news for everybody.” He added: “We couldn’t have hoped for it to come so quickly, but we were optimistic that, in Obama’s last period of office, he would move to create better relations with Cuba.“We’re celebrating right now. We’ll be joining the Cuban people in every way we can to celebrate.”