U.S. and Cuba Will Restore Diplomatic Relations

Yesterday President Obama announced that after almost 54 years of severed relations, the U.S. will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and re-establish an embassy in Havana, Cuba. President Obama made the announcement following the historic prisoner swap of American contractor Alan Gross and three members of the Cuban Five.

Currently, the U.S. has an Interests Section in Havana. Countries that do not have any direct bilateral ties will be represented by an interest section that is housed at the embassy of a third country that has bilateral ties with the two countries. When U.S. and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in January 1961, the U.S.’s interests were represented by the Swiss Embassy in Havana. Then in 1977, the U.S. Interests Section re-occupied the former U.S. Embassy building and was official known as the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, Cuba. The Interests Section functions similarly as other U.S. Embassies and Consulates and staffed by U.S. Foreign Service officers and local personnel employed by the U.S. Department of State. However, the Interests Section has been under-staffed and applicants face longer processing times than other consular posts. Appointments for visitors visas can take 2 - 3 months compared to a few days or a couple of weeks at other consular posts. When the Interests Section transitions into an Embassy, additional staff should be added, thus decreasing the visa processing times.