21 February, 2016
After restoring diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba are building stronger economic links.
President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic ties between the two countries in late 2014. They reopened embassies in Havana and Washington. Now the two countries are working to improve business ties.
The U.S. still has a trade ban, or embargo, against Cuba. But President Obama has been making more and more exceptions to the embargo.
This week, the U.S. and Cuba have made two important trade agreements.
The first agreement relates to commercial flights. Regular commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba ended 53 years ago. In recent years, charter flights have made it possible for a growing number of Americans to visit Cuba. But these flights are expensive and inconvenient to book. Another option is for U.S. citizens to fly to Cuba through other countries, like Mexico or Canada.
Several U.S. airlines say they plan to add flights to Cuba. Cuban airlines will still have to get their own licenses from U.S. authorities.
Under the airline agreement, U.S. visitors would still have to meet one of the 12 qualifying reasons to go to Cuba. For example, an American would have to travel for business, religious, family or educational purposes. However, the difference between legal travel and illegal tourism is not so clear these days.
Last year, about 160,000 Americans made the short trip to Cuba. The island nation is located 145 kilometers off the southeastern U.S. state of Florida. Florida is home to thousands of Cuban-born immigrants who left after Fidel Castro took control in 1959.
The agreement calls for 20 flights a day to the Cuban capital. That number is in addition to the current 10 to 15 charter flights that already connect the two countries. Additional flights connecting the U.S. to nine other Cuban cities could start later this year.
Anthony Foxx is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. "Today is a historic day in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. It represents a critically important milestone in the U.S. effort to engage with Cuba," he said.
The airline deal comes a day after the U.S. approved the construction of an American factory on the island. The factory will produce farm tractors.
The Cleber company plans to hire Cuban workers to assemble as many as 1,000 small tractors a year. The tractors will be sold to private farmers in Cuba.
Cuban officials have agreed to the $5 million to $10 million project. It will be located in an economic zone near Havana.
It is the first major American business investment in the communist nation since 1959. In the early 1960s, Cuba's communist government took over U.S. private property in Cuba. The owners did not receive payment.
American business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal own the Cleber company. They plan to open the factory a year from now.
"Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that's not what we're trying to do," Clemmons said. "We're looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve. It's our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries."
In a dramatic development, the White House announced yesterday that President Obama will visit Cuba in March. He will be the first U.S. president to visit the island nation in almost 90 years.
I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA's Ken Bredemeier reported on this story. It was adapted for Learning English by Adam Brock.
Words in This Story
embargo - n. a government order that limits trade in some way
inconvenient - adj. causing trouble or problems : not convenient
milestone - n. an important point in the progress or development of something
assemble - v. to connect or put together the parts of (something, such as a toy or machine)
restoring - v. re-establishing
commercial - adj. concerned with profit or earning money
charter - adj. employed for temporary use
expensive - adj. costly
option - n. possibility
located - v. putting in a place; finding the place or position of something
engage - v. to get and keep someone's attention or interest
construction - n. building
hire - v. to employ; to offer a job to
zone - n. area
beneficial - adj. producing good or helpful effects