Students and teachers celebrate after listening to a live, nationally broadcast speech by Cuba's President Raul Castro about the country's restoration of relations with the United States, at a school in Havana, Dec. 17, 2014. (AP/Ramon Espinosa)
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After 53 years of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba, the timing to make amends was perfect for both governments. The breakthrough in U.S.-Cuban relations came with the release of American Alan Gross and an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent, and the freeing of three jailed Cuban agents. "After today, everything changes," said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat who lives on the island and has close relations with the Castro government.Cuba's moribund economy grew by just 1.4 percent this year, according to the government's own estimates, and many private businesses that opened to fanfare in the last couple of years have closed.President Castro has said he aims to step down in 2018 and wants to leave Cuba well on a path to reform – on his terms.Washington still prohibits American tourism to Cuba, and the Obama administration cannot end the trade embargo without congressional approval – something unlikely to happen while a Castro remains in control in Havana.
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