President Obama Calls for Lifting Cuban Embargo in State of the Union Address

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Presidential hopeful and senator Marco Rubio has opposed Obama's efforts to warm relations with Cuba. Carlos Barria/Reuters

"Lift the embargo," President Barack Obama said during his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night, addressing the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

The president has been working to improve relations with Cuba since December 2014, when Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Since then, U.S. and Cuban embassies have reopened in Havana and Washington.

"Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That's why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people," Obama said on Tuesday. "You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo."

President Obama has said he wants to visit Cuba this year and host talks with "those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression."

United Nation member states voted to condemn the United States embargo against Cuba, as Newsweek reported in late October. "Now, a long and complex process begins toward the normalization of relations that will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade," Castro told the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Congressional action is required to lift an embargo against Cuba and Obama cannot act on the matter alone through executive action. Several Republican candidates for president, most notably Marco Rubio, have opposed Obama's attempts to thaw the relationship with Cuba.

Though the United States and Cuba have been improving relations over the last year, the upcoming presidential election could change the nature of this relationship once more.

"I will continue working with a high dose of momentum and optimism," Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry's United States Division, told the Cuban News Agency, as reported by the Associated Press. "But I'm beginning to feel a certain bit of realism as the electoral process in the United States approaches; we don't know what's going to happen."