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Caribbean News Desk for Weds Dec 17, 2014

Washington/Havana, Dec 17 (EFE).- A prisoner swap between Cuba and the United States, and the release of American contractor Alan Gross by Havana opened the way Wednesday for the two countries to end more than five decades of political animosity.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in an address Wednesday that he was taking a series of steps to normalize relations with Cuba.

Obama said he instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to start talks with Cuba immediately on restoring diplomatic relations, which were broken in January 1961.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation does not work,” Obama said. “It’s time for a new approach.”

Obama said he spoke with Cuban President Raul Castro by telephone on Tuesday and they agreed to start a dialogue on re-establishing diplomatic relations.

Cuba and the United States plan to reopen their embassies in each other’s capitals in the next few months, Obama said.

As part of the process of rapprochement, Havana released American contractor Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned on the island for five years.

The United States freed three Cuban spies from the so-called “Group of Five” in exchange for a U.S. intelligence asset imprisoned in Cuba for nearly 20 years.

The Cuban exile community in Miami appears to have been taken by surprise by the sudden turn in events.

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