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Cuba: 8 great stories to help you understand what's going on

What with holiday shopping, cooking, traveling and family time, one might be forgiven for not paying too much attention to the headlines over the last week.

But there’s been some historic stuff going down in Cuba, and we at GlobalPost aim to keep you informed at even the busiest of times.

So grab a glass of eggnog, find a quiet corner and check out our definitive list of the eight news stories that will help you understand the past, present and future of the United States’ groundbreaking new deal with the Castros.

 
 

1. The Basics: Vox.com: 9 Questions about Cuba you were too embarrassed to ask

This quick explainer (which includes one of Max Fisher’s trademark Music Breaks) lays out not just the fundamental parts of the U.S.-Cuba deal, but also goes into the history of the conflict between the two countries. If you’re not quite sure why the United States has had such a fractious relationship with the island nation over the years, this is the place to start.

The money quote: "Cuba, to be clear, is a dictatorship. Cubans have very few political rights or freedoms. The country has lost restricted free speech, punished political dissent severely, and for many years systemically persecuted and imprisoned certain groups, particularly gays and lesbians, often in terrible conditions."

2. The Big News Story, All in One Place. The New York Times: U.S. to Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility

If you only have time to read one story on the U.S.-Cuba deal, and you’re not too worried about background or analysis, dig into this piece in The New York Times. It gives a good, succinct summary of the deal and the prisoner exchange that accompanied it. The story also contains a video of President Barack Obama’s historic speech on Cuba, in case you missed it.

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3. The Official U.S. Policy: The Washington Post: Fact sheet: The Obama administration’s new policies toward Cuba

This is the place to start if you’re not interested in reading journalistic analysis of the deal and just want to know the brass tacks. The Washington Post has reproduced the official White House Fact Sheet on the US-Cuba deal, which it has interspersed with some useful graphics and videos that give excellent context to the new policy.

4. Listen: The Spy Exchange Deal: NPR News: Exchange Of Spies Was Critical To U.S.-Cuba Deal

The exchange of imprisoned spies is one of the fascinating elements of the U.S.-Cuba deal, and NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston does a great job of breaking down this part of the story in this interview on NPR’s Morning Edition program.

5. The Pope’s Involvement: Reuters.com: Pope's Latin American brains trust was behind Cuba deal

One of the more compelling elements of the U.S.-Cuba deal is the fact that Pope Francis was involved in brokering it. This piece by Reuters helps put that news in a broader context, explaining how the Pope (who wrote a book about Cuba in the 1990s) has taken full charge of the Vatican’s foreign policy, and detailing the shift in focus for that policy from Europe to South America.

Money quote: "The collective expertise in America's southern hemisphere is a shift from the largely Europe-oriented foreign policy priorities of the Vatican under previous popes."

6. Travel to Cuba: The New York Times: How Travel to Cuba Might Change

Politics is one thing, but what implications might Obama’s announcement have for visiting the island enamored by visitors from Hemingway to Jay-Z? The New York Times has this Q&A on future tourism to Cuba, from getting a visa to finding a flight.

7. Florida and the Political Angle: Vox.com: How domestic politics drove America's Cuba embargo — and might soon end it

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One key to understanding the Cuba embargo is the role national politics has played over the years in keeping U.S. policy in place. This Vox analysis lays out the history of the embargo, explaining its political sensitivity in the U.S. while detailing some of the major milestones in U.S.-Cuba relations over the years.

8. The Reaction from Cuban-Americans: The Miami Herald: U.S.-Cuba’s complex political puzzle

Nowhere in the United States is this shift in policy a bigger deal than in Miami, home to a majority of Cuban immigrants. The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo does a great job laying out how opinion towards the Cuba embargo has shifted among Cuban-Americans, and how that shift could have opened a window for Obama’s change in policy.

Money quote: "Talking about U.S. policy toward Cuba used to be relatively easy for politicians in Florida: say 'Cuba libre' or 'Cuba sí, Castro no.'"

Happy reading. And happy holidays, too.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Ed Yourdon/Flickr

A view of the harbor in Havana, Cuba, in December 2011.