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President Obama Announces Full Diplomatic Relations With Cuba: Full Video And Text

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This afternoon President Barack Obama made an historic announcement: The United States is re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Here is the video and below, full text as prepared for delivery, of President Obama’s speech:

 

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 17, 2014

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
ON CUBA POLICY CHANGES

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba. I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism. We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports. Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind. All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people. Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born. Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party. Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy. As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba. These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values. And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years. Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship. His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

 

Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last. Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds. Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades. This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States. This man is now safely on our shores.

 

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

 

First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961. Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

 

Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response. Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before. It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it. Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba. But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.

 

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. This review will be guided by the facts and the law. Terrorism has changed in the last several decades. At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

 

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement. With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

 

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people. So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

 

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans. So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions. And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

 

I believe in the free flow of information. Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe. So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

 

These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy. The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation. As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

 

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward. I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens. In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team. We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans. The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests. I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight. But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy. The question is how we uphold that commitment. I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos. We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities. In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship. Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom. Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future. José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.” Today, I am being honest with you. We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination. Cubans have a saying about daily life: “No es facil” –- it’s not easy. Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts. In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future. And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections. A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana. Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami — on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts. Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America. But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South. Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

END 12:16 P.M. EST

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OPINION

‘Lying’: Johnson Slammed for Latest Claim on Trump Respecting Peaceful Transfer of Power

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson on Wednesday celebrated Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Washington, D.C. to meet with House and Senate Republicans, barely blocks away from where the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and on democracy itself took place. Many hold the-then president and his “Big Lie” responsible for the insurrection, and he has been indicted on charges related to it.

Johnson was asked if the ex-president is committed to and respects the peaceful transfer of power.

The Speaker’s response has angered some critics.

Johnson has a tenuous grip on his gavel and on the House GOP majority. He has already faced one vote to remove him, and survived it thanks to House Democrats. To shore up his power, Johnson has traveled to Mar-a-Lago to appear with the indicted and now criminally-convicted ex-president, and has promoted several pieces of legislation critics say only serve as messaging vehicles to please Trump.

Pointing out that this will be he first time Trump has met with both House and Senate Republicans in D.C. since the January 6 insurrection, a reporter Wednesday morning asked the Speaker, “are you committed or have you spoken about basically not doing anything like that again and committing to respecting the American tradition of peaceful transfer?”

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Johnson, whose emotions are often on view, repeatedly frown and looked irritated as the reporter spoke.

“Of course he respects that,” Johnson said frustratedly. “And we all do and we’ve all talked about it ad nauseam.”

“We’re excited to welcome President Trump back and he’ll be meeting with the Senate Republicans of course, after he has a breakfast with us. And there’s high anticipation here and great excitement.”

Ahead of Johnson’s remarks CBS News congressional correspondent Scott MacFarlane had posted where Thursday’s meeting with House Republicans and Donald Trump will take place.

If there were no question about Donald Trump’s commitment to the peaceful transfer of power – and there is given to this day he calls insurrectionists, “warriors,” “victims,” “hostages,” and “patriots” – the Speaker would not need to be discussing it “ad nauseam.”

As a backbencher before being elevated to Speaker, Johnson was not just a little-known congressman, he was an architect of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Johnson spread election fraud conspiracy theories and lies, as a CNN investigation published in April confirmed.

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Also back in April, Johnson tried to rewrite history, whitewashing the role of insurrectionists and those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, saying some of them were “innocent, you know, people who were there and just happened to be walking through the building.”

Highlighting those remarks, The New Republic reported, “the Republican leader seemed to suggest that the 2,000 people who charged the halls, destroyed federal property, and interrupted the peaceful presidential transfer of power—1,265 of whom have been charged by federal authorities—were actually mere innocent bystanders.”

Critics were quick to call out Johnson’s remarks.

Veteran journalist John Harwood responded, saying, “by lying here, Johnson shows he understands that what he and House GOP helped Trump do in Jan 2021, and what Trump intends to do again if necessary, is wrong.”

He added, “if he weren’t ashamed of it, he’d tell the truth.”

Award-winning CNBC/NBC News reporter Carl Quintanilla responded to Johnson’s remarks with a 4-second clip of a someone who appears to be attacking law enforcement with the American flag on January 6.

“Bullshit,” declared former Tea Party Republican U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh. “Trump is humanly incapable of accepting an election loss. He will NEVER respect the peaceful transfer of power. And Mike Johnson knows that.”

The Biden campaign reposted the video and remarked, “(No, he clearly does not).”

Media critic and former Chicago Tribune editor Mark Jacob responded with: “Mike Johnson is a lying traitor.”

Mother Jones D.C. bureau chief David Corn wrote: “Given that Trump has promised to pardon the 1/6 insurrectionist rioters who attacked the Capitol, he’s not showing much respect for the rule of law or the peaceful transfer of power. Johnson is lying for Trump. That’s not very Biblical.”

Watch Johnson’s remarks below or at this link.

See the video and social media posts above or at this link.

READ MORE: Many Republicans Don’t Believe Trump Was Indicted or Aren’t Sure – But Say He’s Not Guilty

 

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News

Buttigieg on Martha-Ann Alito: Flags Symbolizing Love vs. Insurrection Are Different

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says he hopes Americans can see the difference between an LGBTQ Pride flag representing love, like the one Martha-Ann Alito lamented she has to look at daily, and flags that symbolize the January 6, 2021 insurrection, two of which she flew at the homes she and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito live in.

“I’m often reminded that the most important thing in my life, which is my marriage, and my family and the two beautiful children that my husband Chasten and I are raising that that marriage only exists by the grace of the single vote on the United States Supreme Court,” said Secretary Buttigieg, responding to a question during a CNN interview Wednesday morning about secretly-recorded remarks Mrs. Alito made. “That expanded our rights and freedoms back in 2015 and made it possible for somebody like me to get married.”

“And, you know, Supreme Court justices have an unbelievable amount of power and, and by the nature in the structure, the Supreme Court, there’s no supervision over that power. They are entrusted with it literally for as long as they live. And part of that trust is we expect them to enter into those enormously consequential decisions that that shape our everyday lives with a sense of fairness,” Buttigieg continued, appearing to acknowledge the tremendous drop in perceived credibility the Supreme Court has suffered in recent years. Last summer Pew Research reported the court’s favorability rating had dropped to a “historic low.”

RELATED: Secret Audio of Justice Alito’s Wife Exposes His Plans and Her ‘Bitterness’: Critics

“I also hope that most Americans can understand the difference between a flag that symbolizes you know, love and acceptance and signals to people who have sometimes feared for their safety that they’re going to be okay. And insurrectionists symbology, I’ll just leave it at that.”

CNN’s Berman played audio of Martha-Ann Alito before asking the Secretary to offer his remarks.

“I want a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag, because I have to look across the lagoon at the pride flag for the next month,” Mrs. Alito can be heard saying in the secretly-recorded audio. “And he’s like, ‘Oh, please don’t put up a flag.’ I said, ‘I won’t do it. Because I’m deferring to you but when you are free of this nonsense, I’m putting it up and I’m gonna send them a message every day.’ ”

Although CNN did not play the full clip of Mrs. Alito’s remarks, she continued, saying, “I’ll be changing the flags. They’ll be all kinds. I made a flag in my head. This is how I satisfy myself. I made a flag. It’s white and has yellow and orange flames around it. And in the middle is the word ‘vergogna.’ ‘Vergogna’ in Italian means shame — vergogna. V-E-R-G-O-G-N-A. Vergogna.”

She also said, “I’m German. I’m from Germany. My heritage is German. You come after me, I’m gonna give it back to you. And there will be a way — it doesn’t have to be now — but there will be a way they will know. Don’t worry about it. God — you read the Bible. Psalm 27 is my psalm. Mine. Psalm 27, the Lord is my God and my rock. Of whom shall I be afraid? Nobody.”

Watch Buttigieg’s remarks below or at this link.

READ MORE: Trump Insists No Mandatory Military Draft Advisers Have Been Planning

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News

Speaker Johnson on Why He Thinks Hunter Biden’s Conviction Is Valid but Donald Trump’s Is Not

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who could gain tremendous power if Donald Trump is elected president in November, explained to reporters his belief that Tuesday’s jury conviction of Hunter Biden on three federal felony gun charges was absolutely legitimate while Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 state felony charges was not.

“Every case is different,” Johnson told CNN’s Manu Raju (video below) when asked if “the president’s son being convicted on three counts” undercuts the Republican Speaker’s claims of a “two tier system of justice.”

Johnson added, “clearly the evidence was overwhelming” in the Hunter Biden prosecution, one which some legal experts said should not have been brought and at least one member of the jury who spoke to CNN said was a waste of the taxpayers’ dime.

“I don’t think that’s the case in the Trump trials, and all the charges that have been brought” against Trump “have been obviously brought for political purposes. Hunter Biden is a separate instance.”

READ MORE: Secret Audio of Justice Alito’s Wife Exposes His Plans and Her ‘Bitterness’: Critics

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) issued a strong response to the Johnson’s claims.

“We should be very very worried that Republicans are so brazen in their belief that convictions of Democrats are fine but convictions of Republicans are illegitimate. This is a political party TELLING US OUT LOUD that they plan to use the justice system to persecute opponents.”

Speaker Johnson and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and members from both their GOP conferences will be meeting with Donald Trump on Thursday, reportedly to create a game plan to pass major right-wing legislation if the convicted ex-president wins back the White House on November, NBC News reports.

Watch below or at this link.

 

 

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