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President Barack Obama has announced Wednesday (Dec. 17) that the United States and Cuba will resume talks in a bid to shift policy towards the island nation. This announcement comes on the heels of an exchange of prisoners, opening the gates of conversations between the typically combative countries.

This new shift is significant, considering the hostilities between the United States and Cuba have endured since the 1960s through economic and political sanctions. The diplomatic ties that were severed in 1961 will be reestablished and it is hoped that the relationship between nations can be repaired. The United States government has been critical of Cuba’s Communist rule, and feel that the oppressive Castro regime has sparked a need for change.

During President Obama’s statement this afternoon, he charged Secretary of State John Kerry to initiate discussions with Cuba and reopen diplomatic relations. President Obama will also allow the reestablishment of an embassy in Havana and work towards high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments.

The United States also demands improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms. This will be part of an ongoing effort aimed at improving the lives of Cubans and end the culture of oppression. President Obama also said he will work with Congress to lift the embargo against Cuba so that the country can better serve its 11 million citizens. This includes allowing travel and the use of export among other factors.

The release of Cuban prisoner Alan Gross has been an ongoing fight since the aid worker’s arrest in December 2009. Now 65, Gross was freed on humanitarian grounds and was placed upon a U.S. Government plane headed to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Gross wasn’t the only person freed in a prisoner exchange. A CIA prisoner was also released in exchange for three Cuban intelligence agents held in America.