The Cuban government freed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, who had been in captivity for five years, on Dec. 17, 2014. Gross had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 after his effort to create a way to communicate outside of the Cuban government"s control. The government cited humanitarian grounds as the reason for Gross" release.
In response to the prisoner release, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which includes opening an embassy in Havana. There hasn"t been any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961. The prisoner release was part of a deal negotiated in secret over 18 months. Canada hosted most of the talks that led to the deal. Pope Francis also hosted a meeting at the Vatican to help with negotiations between the two countries.
Talks began in early 2015 between the two countries over how to restore diplomatic relations after five decades. Both sides made demands ahead of the talks. Cuba asked the U.S. to remove its name from a list of states that sponsor terrorism. The U.S. insisted that its diplomats should be allowed to work freely and meet with dissidents in Cuba. A second round of talks was scheduled for late Feb. to hammer out these issues and more. Meanwhile, reaction to the resumed relations with the U.S. has been mixed in Cuba. Some praised the move while others were skeptical.
With diplomatic relations restored, the ban for Americans traveling to Cuba was lifted. Before Dec. 2014, Americans could only travel to Cuba with permission from the U.S. State Department. After Dec. 2014, tourists from the U.S. still had to go as part of a religious, educational, and cultural group, but the travel ban being lifted made it easier in other ways for Americans visiting Cuba. Internet access, an embassy, and the use of credit cards were soon available for the first time to assist Americans while in Cuba. Also, the U.S. government began allowing Americans to bring small quantities of items back from Cuba, including