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Boehner: Obama's Cuba policy change latest in series of 'mindless concessions'

President Barack Obama vowed to end what he described as an "outdated" approach toward Cuba as the U.S. seeks to begin normalizing relations with the country, which have been strained for decades, through a wide set of actions ranging from the easing of travel restrictions to some imports.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner criticized the policy change, saying it's the latest in a series of "mindless concessions" to dictators. Meanwhile, potential 2016 president hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he opposed Obama's move to normalize Cuba relations, reported USA Today.

The U.S. plans to embark on the most massive overhaul of its relations with Cuba in more than 50 years. The U.S. first imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1960 and cut diplomatic ties the following year as Cold War tensions ran high.

"Neither the Cuban or American people have been well served" by the decades long policy rooted in events that took place before most Americans were born, Obama said in a White House address.

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"These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked," he added. "It's time for a new approach."

This follows the release on humanitarian grounds of American contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban prison where he spent five years on espionage charges along with a separate U.S. intelligence agent who'd been held in Cuba in exchange for the release of three Cubans imprisoned in the U.S.

The Cuban imprisonment of Gross had presented a major obstacle toward Obama's desire to take additional steps in re-examining the U.S.' Cuba policy. The administration had already implemented steps aimed at relaxing travel restrictions for those with family members in the country.

In an address in Spanish, Cuban President Raul Castro said the country is taking measures to make its brand of socialism prosperous as it seeks to strengthen ties between the two nations.

As part of the overhaul, the U.S. will initiate discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and work to re-establish an embassy in Havana.

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Meetings between the two countries began last spring with a series of talks in Canada and the Vatican.

Obama detailed the Pope's involvement in the negotiations on Wednesday.

"His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me and Cuba's President Raul Castro urging us to resolve Alan's case and to address Cuba's interest in the release of three Cuban agents who'd been jailed in the U.S. for over 15 years," he said.

Following the news, Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, which invests in countries in the Caribbean Basin, shot up 34 percent. Shares in energy drink maker Cuba Beverage also spiked following the news as investors bid up the stock which doesn't appear to have any relationship with Cuba itself, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In the coming weeks, travel to the country will ease in 12 existing categories, including family visits and certain export activities. Remittance levels will be increase as well. Currently, travel to Cuba is highly restricted. Tourist travel will remain banned as only Congress has the power to lift it.

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Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be allowed to import $400 worth of goods, including $100 of tobacco, such as Cuban cigars, and alcohol combined. However, this is for personal consumption rather than commercial re-sale.

Certain exports from the U.S. including building materials for private residential construction will also be allowed. Travelers to Cuba will be able to use U.S. credit and debit cards as part of the policy change.

Cuban access to telecommunications will also open up as providers will be allowed to establish infrastructure to provide internet and telecommunications services to the country's residents. Currently, the nation has one of the lowest's internet penetration rates in the world at merely 5 percent.

In recent years, the Cuban government has slowly implemented some economic reforms, including letting Cubans buy cell phones and buy and sell used cars.

The U.S. remains Cuba's biggest food supplier. Cuba is facing extra pressure amid the political and economic turmoil in Venezuela. The South American country accounts for roughly 40 percent of Cuba's trade. Cuba largely depends on highly subsidized crude oil from Venezuela. As oil prices have plunged, the Venezuelan economy has fallen apart, putting pressure on it to reduce aid to Cuba and elsewhere.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report