Wednesday's announced pivot in U.S.-Cuban relations didn't happen overnight. The secret negotiations started in early 2013, according to The Associated Press, and newly confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry got the ball rolling by contacting the Vatican to act as intermediary. Pope Francis became personally involved early in 2014, bringing up a Cuba-U.S. thaw with Obama at a meeting in March, then sending letters to Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro over the summer.
On Tuesday, Obama and Castro spoke by telephone, and on Wednesday— the pope's 78th birthday — U.S. foreign aid contractor Alan Gross and an unidentified U.S. spy were traded for three convicted Cuba spies, and the two countries eased economic restrictions and pledged to normalize diplomatic ties. Here is how Castro explained the historic change in U.S.-Cuba relations, after 55 years of enmity:
And here's Obama:
"It does not serve America's interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse," Obama explained, possibly with Russia in mind. "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."