Historic talks have begun in Havana between Cuban officials and the highest-level US delegation to visit the country for 35 years.
It follows last month’s announcements by President Obama and President Raul Castro that they had reached a breakthrough in seeking to restore relations that have been locked in Cold War-era hostilities for decades.
Two days of meetings are expected to focus on migration and restoring diplomatic relations.
In his State of the Union address, Barack Obama explained his objective of removing economic sanctions and a long-standing trade embargo.
“When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new. Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo,” the US president said.
Present in Washington – and distinctly grateful as he mouthed “thank you” to the president, was Alan Gross – a US contractor who spent five years in jail in Cuba after being accused of spying.
Gross’ release in December was a key part of the deal between the two countries.
But US Republicans and many Cuban exiles oppose the thaw in relations.