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U.S. Ambassador in Cuba: ‘We’re Changing A Relationship’

U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Calls Obama Visit a 'Beacon of Hope' 1:18

With just months left in the Obama presidency, the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis says this new U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to go a long way.

President Obama’s arrival in Cuba — the first visit for a sitting U.S. president in nearly 90 years — signals a historic shift away from the years of decline in the U.S.-Cuban relationship.

“It’s about reconciliation,” he told NBC News’ Lester Holt. “It’s about bringing people back together and looking forward to the future with a much more productive relationship.”

The U.S. mission in Cuba officially opened late last year resuming diplomatic relations with the island nation, though many differences remain especially in the area of human rights.

“The reestablishing of diplomatic relations is not an award,” DeLaurentis said. “We feel strongly that advocating U.S. interests and values can best be achieved through engagement, through talking to them.”

The U.S. is already engaging various sectors of Cuban society to ensure the relationship between the two nations is sustained long after the Obama administration.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide became the first U.S. hotel company to sign a deal with Cuba since the 1959 revolution, announcing a multi-million dollar investment in the island nation’s tourism industry.

Such a deal would normally be banned under the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba — which is still in place — but the company received special permission from the U.S. Treasury department.

Direct mail service between the U.S. and Cuba resumed as a U.S. Postal service plane carried a batch of letters left the U.S. for the island nation, including one letter the president penned himself to a Cuban citizen who wrote him.

Though there is uncertainty as to how this new relationship with Cuba will be sustained with the election of a new U.S. president, it seems the progress both nations have made could be hard to undo.

“We feel that expanded commercial contact is an important part of benefiting the Cuban people going forward,” he said. “It’s very important for two countries 90 miles apart to have a good working relationship.”