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Barack Obama and Raúl Castro meet in Panama

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro meet in Panama


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For the first time in over 50 years, the presidents of the United States and Cuba meet on April 11, 2015. Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, President of Cuba and brother of Fidel Castro, with whom the United States broke off diplomatic contact in 1961, shook hands and expressed a willingness to put one of the world’s highest-profile diplomatic feuds in the past.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower had cut diplomatic ties with Cuba after the Castro-led revolution overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and installed a regime that was friendly with the Soviet Union. For the next five decades, the U.S. sought to isolate Cuba economically and politically; though it failed to get other nations to join its embargo, it did manage to severely hamstring Cuba’s economic development. Fidel Castro stepped down as president in 2008, the same year that Obama was elected. Early in his administration, Obama signed laws and executive orders that eased the U.S. embargo of Cuba and made it easier for Americans to travel to the island nation. Taking over for his brother, Raúl Castro expressed a willingness to reciprocate, and the two shook hands at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in 2013. That year, officials from the two nations discussed normalizing relations at secret talks facilitated by Pope Francis I in Canada and at the Vatican.

The following April, Castro and Obama met, shook hands, and posed together for photographs in Panama City, Panama. Both leaders stressed their desire to work together, but warned that their meeting was only the beginning of what would have to be a long dialogue. A short time later, the Obama administration removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror, and the diplomatic relationship was officially re-established in July.

The “Cuban Thaw,” along with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran, the U.S., and its allies, was one of the major foreign policy accomplishments of Obama administration, and as such its reversal was priority for his successor, Donald Trump, who tightened travel restrictions between the two countries. The Trump administration did not manage to end commercial travel between the two countries, nor did it close the U.S. embassy in Cuba or ask Cuba to vacate its embassy in Washington, D.C.

READ MORE: How the Castro Family Dominated Cuba for Nearly 60 Years


In Historic Meeting, Barack Obama, Raul Castro Talk in Panama

This week&rsquos Summit of the Americas in Panama was significant for a number of reasons &mdash none more so than Cuba&rsquos first-ever attendance of the event.

But a major event became historic when Cuban President Raul Castro met with his United States counterpart Barack Obama, the first time the two countries&rsquo leaders had held a formal meeting in more than a half century.

The meeting came after Obama&rsquos decision in December to begin to normalize ties with the US&rsquo nearest Caribbean neighbour.

&ldquoThis is obviously a historic meeting. The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated, and over the years a lot of mistrust has developed,&rdquo Obama said ahead of the meeting. &ldquoBut during the course of the last several months, there have been contacts between the US and the Cuban government. So I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions. And I think if we can build on this spirit of mutual respect and candidness, that over time we will see not just a transformation in the relationship between our two countries, but a positive impact throughout the hemisphere and the world.&rdquo

Castro said Cuba was willing to discuss &ldquoevery issue between the United States and Cuba,&rdquoincluding issues from human rights to freedom of the press.

&ldquoI think that everything can be on the table,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe could be persuaded of some things of others, we might not be persuaded. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the President has described.&rdquo

Castro said the two countries would continue to advance the meetings already taking place in both Washington and Havana, and that &ldquowe shall open our embassies.&rdquo

&ldquoWe shall visit each other, having exchanges, people to people,&rdquo he said. &ldquoAnd all that matters is what those neighbors can do we are close neighbors, and there are many things that we can have.&rdquo

It was the first meeting between sitting US and Cuban leaders since US President Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista in 1958.

Castro, who called Obama an &ldquohonest man,&rdquo had addressed the summit with a passionate speech earlier in the summit that did not ignore the history of the US-Cuba relationship.

&ldquoSo we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient &mdash very patient. Some things we will agree on others we will disagree,&rdquo Castro said. &ldquoThe pace of life at the present moment in the world, it&rsquos very fast. We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow. And we hope that our closest assistants &mdash part of them are here with us today &mdash we hope that they will follow the instructions of both Presidents.&rdquo

Following the talks, Obama described the meeting as &ldquocandid and fruitful,&rdquo citing what he saw as an ability to &ldquospeak honestly about our differences.&rdquo

Since January, the US and Cuba have been holding alternating meetings between officials in Washington and Havana those talks are being led by US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, head of the directorate general for the United States in Cuba&rsquos Foreign Ministry.


At the scene: Vanessa Buschschluter, BBC News, Panama City

This summit was always going to be about the interaction between President Obama and Raul Castro.

The White House had hinted that they were interested in a one-to-one meeting although none had been officially scheduled.

In the end, it took place in a small nondescript room in a Panama City conference centre.

The two leaders did not look exactly at ease, sitting on small chairs slightly angled towards each other, but their tone was cordial.

Mr Obama called the meeting "historic". Mr Castro said he would continue taking steps to normalise relations between the two former foes.

The meeting was in essence symbolic. With the cameras flashing away, no decisions were made.

But its message was clear: we have our differences, but we can do business with each other.


Raúl Castro and Barack Obama meet at the 7th Summit of the Americas

PANAMA. – Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama finally met this Saturday, April 11, during a break in the sessions of the last day of the 7th Summit of the Americas, a meeting highly anticipated by everyone here.


After each had made his speech and moments after posing for the usual Official Photo, the two leaders gathered for the meeting in a small room at the ATLAPA Convention Center.

There, Raúl said that the key aspect is that we are willing to discuss everything, including human rights and press freedom. These and other issues relating to Cuba and also the United States.

I think everything can be discussed, if done so with mutual respect, the Cuban President considered. “It may be that we convince each other of certain things, but not others.”

We should be under no illusions, he warned, we have many differences and a complex history, but we are ready to move forwards in these meetings to establish diplomatic relations.

Raúl referred to the opening of embassies, increased visits between the two countries and to engage in all the issues pertinent to “such close neighbors”.

We can talk about everything with patience, even in these times when life moves so fast, he said. We hope that our closest collaborators know how to comply with the instructions of both Presidents.

Obama for his part, said that the history between the U.S. and Cuba was complicated, as there has been a climate of mistrust for a long time. After 50 years it is time for us to try something new, he said.

It is important to maintain contact between the two governments and peoples, he added. “We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future, we will leave behind the things that complicated the past.”

Obama said the two peoples have positively supported the changes. As exchanges increase I believe there will be more direct contact and greater connection between our countries, he said.

There will continue to be deep and significant differences, we will continue to attempt to “raise concerns about democracy and human rights.”

“As Raúl said in his impassioned speech they are also attempting to raise those concerns,” Obama noted, later adding that, “Over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

We want our diplomats to have more daily contact, he said, to the point of opening the two embassies.

“Thanks to Castro for the spirit of openness that he has demonstrated towards us.” We can continue to construct our relationship based on mutual respect, he said.

Castro spoke in his speech of the hardships that the Cubans have had to endure, my policy is to help them to be more prosperous, “the Cubans are an enlightened, intelligent and brilliant people,” he concluded.

Also attending the relaxed meeting were Susan Rice, National Security adviser Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security adviser and Ricardo Zúñiga, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. Representing Cuba were Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla Alejandro Castro Espín and Juan Francisco Arias Fernández, both of the Commission for National Security and Defense and MINREX Director General for the United States, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.


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President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba met on Saturday for a historic summit between the leaders of two countries that for the last half century have viewed one another with deep suspicion, as ideological rivals and often outright enemies.

The meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama comes as Castro and Obama have embarked on a process to normalize relations between their estranged nations, a diplomatic rapprochement that if successful would end a vestigial conflict of the Cold War.

President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba met on Saturday for a historic summit between the leaders of two countries that for the last half century have viewed one another with deep suspicion, as ideological rivals and often outright enemies.

The meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama comes as Castro and Obama have embarked on a process to normalize relations between their estranged nations, a diplomatic rapprochement that if successful would end a vestigial conflict of the Cold War.

“This is obviously a historic meeting,” Obama said it its outset. “The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated, and over the years a lot of mistrust has developed. But during the course of the last several months, there have been contacts between the United States and the Cuban government. And in December, as a consequence of some of the groundwork that had been laid, both myself and President Castro announced a significant change in policy and the relationship between our two governments.”

During that December announcement, Obama said that the United States would ease some long-standing restrictions on the Cuban economy, and in recent days, administration officials have said that the State Department and other American agencies are nearing a decision on removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Castro and Obama discussed the terror designation during their meeting, with Obama telling his counterpart that he would make a decision on the issue in “coming days,” according to a senior administration official.

“We are now in a position to move on a path towards the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult, I think, for our countries to communicate,” Obama told reporters during his opening remarks.

The talks between Cuba and the United States appear to have mostly bracketed the ideological differences that have poisoned relations between the two countries. On Saturday, Obama and Castro said that they would move forward in a spirit of constructive disagreement.

“I think that everything can be on the table. I think that we can do it, as President Obama has just said, with respect for the ideas of the other. We could be persuaded of some things of others, we might not be persuaded,” Castro said. “But when I say that I agree with everything that the president has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the president has described.”

“I think what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility,” Obama said, adding that the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington are key priorities in the short term.

The meeting occurred in a fairly anonymous room of the ATLAPA Convention Center in Panama City, whose most notable feature the White House pool reporter could remark upon was its “very convention-center-like carpeting-blue with lime green geometrical shapes.” The two men sat in wooden chairs. Both dressed in dark suits — Obama in a blue tie, Castro a gray one. Castro had a leather notebook on the table between the two, which had a bouquet of three white roses. The last meeting between the leader of Cuba and the United States occurred in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower met Fulgencio Batista, the dictatorial leader who fell from power during the Cuban Revolution.

Castro told Obama he wants the U.S. embargo on the island lifted. The two also discussed fugitives both in Cuba and the United States. If the United States opens an embassy in Havana, Obama stressed the need for its diplomats to be able to move freely around the country. According to a senior administration official, the two men spent a significant amount of time discussing their meeting’s historical significance.

But after 50 years of warily eyeing one another across a 90-mile waterway, there was also a sense at Saturday’s meeting that the relationship between Cuba and the United States is not about to reborn overnight. “We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient — very patient,” Castro said. “Some things we will agree on others we will disagree. The pace of life at the present moment in the world, it’s very fast. We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”


Obama, Castro Meet In 'Spirit Of Openness'

President Barack Obama smiles as he looks over towards Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama on Saturday. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP hide caption

President Barack Obama smiles as he looks over towards Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama on Saturday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Obama says when it comes to Cuba, "the United States will not be imprisoned by the past."

Obama met for about an hour on Saturday with Cuban President Raul Castro. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two countries' leaders in more than half a century.

When the sit-down finally happened — after months of behind-the-scenes negotiation — even the leaders seemed surprised.

They spent part of their hour together talking about just how unlikely this meeting was after so many decades of mutual mistrust. "The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated," Obama said, adding that most people in both countries now support the diplomatic thaw.

"After 50 years of a policy that had not changed on the part of the United States, it was my belief that it was time to try something new," he said.

Saturday's historic handshake was a milestone, but there's a long road ahead. The two countries are busy negotiating details of re-opening embassies and restoring diplomatic ties. Obama is expected to make a decision shortly on whether to drop Cuba from a list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism." That move is subject to a 45-day review by Congress.

"Everything can be on the table," Castro said through an interpreter, though in some cases they'll agree to disagree.

"No one should question that we have many differences," Castro said. "But we are willing to make progress . We can develop friendship between our two peoples."

The Cuban leader spoke only briefly during the photo opportunity, noting that he and Obama had already listened to a lot of long speeches while attending a hemispheric summit meeting in Panama. One of those speeches was Castro's own.

Leaders at the summit were allotted only eight minutes each for their remarks. But Castro argued that he'd been kept out of six previous summits and he was determined to make up for lost time. For nearly an hour, he catalogued two centuries of alleged Yankee imperialism, from the Spanish American War to the Bay of Pigs and beyond. Obama listened impassively, but argued nursing old grievances won't solve today's problems.

"The Cold War has been over for a long time," he said. "And I'm not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born."

That didn't stop leaders of Venezuela, Argentina or Ecuador from joining Castro's anti-American chorus. Obama suggested those critics are simply using the United States as a scapegoat in an effort to mask domestic problems of their own.

"America never makes a claim about being perfect," he said. "We do make a claim about being open to change."

Obama pointed to the American civil rights movement as an example of change brought about by those who challenged the government. That's one reason he says the U.S. will continue to defend those who are challenging the government in Cuba. Still, Obama insists America is not in the business of regime change.

"We have a point of view and we won't be shy about expressing it," he said. "But I'm confident the way to lift up the values that we care about is through persuasion."


11/04/2015: Barack Obama và Raúl Castro gặp nhau ở Panama

Vào ngày này năm 2015, lần đầu tiên sau hơn 50 năm, Tổng thống Mỹ và Chủ tịch Cuba đã chính thức gặp nhau. Barack Obama và Raúl Castro, em trai của Fidel Castro, người mà phía Mỹ đã cắt đứt liên lạc ngoại giao vào năm 1961, đã bắt tay nhau và bày tỏ sẵn sàng cùng khép lại một trong những mối thâm thù ngoại giao nổi bật nhất thế giới.

Tổng thống Dwight D. Eisenhower đã cắt đứt quan hệ ngoại giao với Cuba sau khi cuộc cách mạng do Castro lãnh đạo đã lật đổ một nhà độc tài được Mỹ hậu thuẫn và thiết lập một chế độ thân thiện hơn với Liên Xô. Trong vòng 50 năm tiếp theo, Mỹ đã tìm cách cô lập Cuba về kinh tế và chính trị mặc dù không lôi kéo được các quốc gia khác tham gia lệnh cấm vận của mình, nhưng Mỹ vẫn cản trở nghiêm trọng sự phát triển kinh tế của Cuba.

Fidel Castro từ chức chủ tịch năm 2008, cùng năm Obama đắc cử tổng thống. Trong thời kỳ đầu lên nắm quyền, Obama đã ký các đạo luật và sắc lệnh hành pháp nhằm nới lỏng lệnh cấm vận của Mỹ đối với Cuba và giúp người Mỹ đến đảo quốc này dễ dàng hơn. Lên thay anh trai, Raúl Castro cũng đã bày tỏ thiện chí đáp lại, và cả hai đã bắt tay nhau tại lễ tưởng niệm Nelson Mandela vào năm 2013. Cũng trong năm đó, các quan chức hai nước đã thảo luận về việc bình thường hóa quan hệ ngoại giao trong cuộc hội đàm bí mật do Giáo hoàng Francis I tổ chức ở Canada và Vatican.

Tháng 4 năm sau, Castro và Obama đã gặp nhau, bắt tay và chụp ảnh cùng nhau tại Thành phố Panama. Cả hai nhà lãnh đạo đều nhấn mạnh mong muốn hợp tác, nhưng vẫn thận trọng nói rằng cuộc gặp của họ chỉ là bước khởi đầu cho một cuộc đối thoại lâu dài. Chẳng bao lâu sau, chính quyền Obama loại Cuba khỏi danh sách các nước bảo trợ khủng bố, và quan hệ ngoại giao chính thức được tái lập vào tháng 7.


President Obama’s Trip to Jamaica and Panama: 5 Things to Watch

The president could meet with Cuban President Raul Castro in Panama.

— -- President Obama will depart Wednesday evening for a three-and-a-half-day trip to Jamaica and Panama for a series of meetings at which the U.S. relationship with Cuba is expected to take center stage.

The president will first travel to Kingston, Jamaica, where he will meet with Caribbean leaders to discuss everything from security efforts in the region to energy, as well as speak to students in Jamaica. It will mark the first presidential trip to Jamaica since 1982.

He then will fly to Panama City for events with CEOs, Central American leaders and others before attending the Seventh Summit of the Americas, which, for the first time, will be attended by all 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere -- including Cuba.

Here are five things to watch on President Obama's trip to Jamaica and Panama.

1. Will Obama and Castro Meet?

All eyes will be on whether an historic meeting occurs between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday. The White House has hinted an encounter between the two leaders will likely occur, though a formal meeting has not been scheduled. "I'm sure that President Obama will be interacting with President Castro at the summit events and as the leaders gather on the margins of those events," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said on a conference call Tuesday. If Obama and Castro do have any substantive talks in Panama, this would be the first meeting between a U.S. president and Cuban president in nearly 60 years -- the latest development in President Obama's efforts to normalize relations between the two countries. Over the past year and a half, Obama and Castro have engaged in limited -- but history-making -- interactions. In December, the two leaders conducted a 45-minute phone conversation ahead of an announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would try to restore diplomatic ties. Obama and Castro also shook hands at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in 2013. But many are hoping a more substantive conversation could occur on the sidelines of the summit.

2. Cuba Could Be Removed From the State Sponsors of Terrorism List

It could happen at any moment. The State Department started its review of whether Cuba should remain on the state sponsors of terrorism list in December and is nearing the conclusion of its assessment. Once President Obama receives the official State Department review, he will make his recommendation, which could occur during his trip to Jamaica and Panama. Removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list would be the latest major step in efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Currently, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria all are on the list. Cuba was added in 1982 based upon accusations it provided weapons and training to rebels in Latin America.

3. Changing Expectations

Expect this Summit of the Americas to be much different than the last one. At the VI Summit of the Americas held three years ago, President Obama left the meeting arguing against inviting Cuba. This year, Cuba will be in attendance for the first time following the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries. The embargo with Cuba was one of several issues of contention between the U.S and Latin American countries at a previous summit held in Columbia. Anti-drug/counternarcotic and monetary policy also left Obama on the defensive. This time, President Obama has not only moved forward with Cuba. Add in the $1 billion request for foreign aid to assist Central American countries with security and economic investments, and you can expect Obama to be received with open arms. "This is our third summit, and we've been building a more positive environment in the Americas for several years now," Rhodes said. "What we're building is a very significant series of initiatives within the hemisphere, and the president is very focused on ensuring that we are ambitious and having a concrete agenda here."

4. But How Will Venezuela React?

While President Obama has earned some good will from Latin American countries in recent years, there are some who aren't too happy with the president's actions. Case in point: Venezuela. Last month, President Obama imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelans over alleged human rights abuses and corruption in the country. The decision angered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and some of his allies in the region. Maduro is also scheduled to attend the Summit of the Americas, and while there is no meeting between the two leaders on the schedule, expect Maduro to express his displeasure towards the United States at some point over the weekend. The White House tried to downplay some of the tension ahead of the trip. "We certainly would expect the Venezuelan government to express its opposition to certain U.S. policies," Rhodes said. "What we'll be making clear here is that we stand up for a set of universal values everywhere. And with respect to Venezuela, frankly, we believe that a process of dialogue within the country and within the region is the best way to address the issues that have raised so many challenges within Venezuela and the region in recent years."

5. President Obama, the Tourist

As with every presidential trip, there is always the opportunity for the president to play tourist. Will Jamaica roll out the red carpet to welcome the president in full Jamaican flair in Kingston? Could the president swing by the Panama Canal, which is currently undergoing an expansion that would double its capacity? Will he pick up any gifts in Jamaica and Panama for first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha?


Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama met Saturday on the sidelines of the Summit of Americas in Panama. It was the first face-to-face meeting between US and Cuban presidents since 1956, before the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

While press reports before the summit anticipated only a brief handshake, the Obama-Castro session lasted a full hour, and likely included substantive discussion of such issues as US-Cuban trade, steps toward the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana, and sanctions placed on Cuba as a result of its classification as a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the US State Department.

On his way to Panama, Obama met with Caribbean leaders in Jamaica, and made comments suggesting that the lifting of the anti-terrorism sanctions was imminent.

The summit meeting is a sign of the accelerating effort by the White House and the Cuban regime to establish a new political and economic relationship between American imperialism and its former semi-colony.

The joint announcement last December 17 that the US and Cuba would reopen diplomatic relations was followed by three face-to-face meetings between mid-level officials of the State Department and Cuban Foreign Ministry, then a meeting Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, also in Panama, and finally the Obama-Castro session.

This session was preceded by successive public remarks, first by Obama, then Castro. Obama suggested that resumed US-Cuban relations might be more difficult for the government in Havana than for Washington—an indirect reference to the justified fears among the Cuban people over the prospect of subordinating their country once again to US imperialism, which for decades subjected Cuba to brutal exploitation.

“We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient,” Castro said. “We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”

Whatever the exact nature of the closed-door talks that followed, the speech made by Castro at the Summit of the Americas was a revealing expression of the turn by the bourgeois-nationalist regime in Cuba towards a rapprochement with imperialism.

US opposition barred Cuba from six previous Summits of the Americas, held every three years since 1994. Castro said that he would make up for lost time by speaking for six times the limit set for each country—eight minutes—and launched into a 50-minute speech denouncing past crimes of US imperialism against Cuba and against Latin America as a whole.

The key section in this performance, however, came when he absolved Obama personally for past American actions. “I apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this. There were 10 presidents before him and all of them owe some kind of debt except for President Obama,” Castro said. “In my opinion, Obama is an honest man,” he added. “I admire him. I think his behaviour has a lot to do with his humble background.”

Castro elaborated on the significance of his tribute to the US president: “Believe me, I have given a great deal of thought to those words. I had written them down. I removed them. But there, I said it. I am pleased that I have said this about President Obama.”

This was nothing less than a Castro stamp of approval for a US president who has waged war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, bombed Libya, backed a fascist-led coup in Ukraine and is even now aiding the Saudi monarchy and the Egyptian military junta in their war on Yemen. To say nothing of ordering drone-missile assassinations in half a dozen countries, and carrying out a military buildup directed at preparing nuclear war against Russia and China.

Within the hemisphere, the Obama administration has sought to subvert the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador, instigated a coup in Honduras, and conducted quieter efforts to destabilize and undermine Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and other targets. The leaders of at least 11 countries at the Summit of the Americas made public criticisms of such US efforts, only to find the supposedly anti-imperialist Cuban regime fawning over the American president.

In his own remarks to the Summit of the Americas, Obama cited his desire to open “a new relationship with Cuba” as proof that the US government would treat the countries of Latin America as “equal partners.” He attacked the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, for allegedly jailing critics in the press, after Correa made remarks from the same podium criticizing US policy in the hemisphere.

When Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro spoke, Obama had already left the summit to return to Washington, a snub that only underscored the determination of the US government to bring every government in the hemisphere to heel. That is the context in which the US-Cuban rapprochement is taking place.

Washington and Havana share one immediate goal: promoting American business investment on the island, which offers the prospect of profits for corporate America and personal wealth for the leading circles of the Castro regime, on the model of China and Russia, albeit on a much more modest scale.

This reality was underscored by another meeting held in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas. Cuban officials feted corporate executives at a top Panama hotel, urging them to visit the island and invest. Those attending included Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s second-richest man.

Earlier this month, five former US secretaries of agriculture sent a joint letter to Congress urging an end to the embargo of Cuba, arguing it had not brought about the removal of the Castro regime and was hurting the interests of US agribusiness.

The New York Times reported April 8 on the efforts of American corporations to prepare for the opening up of Cuba as a potential market and investment destination. Mark Entwistle, a former Canadian ambassador to Cuba who now provides advice on doing business there, told the newspaper, “There isn’t a major Fortune 500 company that does not have a Cuba working group or some sign of interest because the possible reality is there will be trade and investment with Cuba.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote breathlessly (April 3) about the “real-estate revolution sweeping Cuba. More than five decades after Fidel Castro seized power here, ordinary Cubans are starting to accumulate real wealth by buying and selling their homes. Authorities are dusting off plans to develop a luxury vacation-home market for foreigners.” These include developments “built around high-end golf courses, something Fidel Castro all but banned for years after the revolution as a bourgeois pursuit.”


Barack Obama And Cuba President Raul Castro Make History With First Sit-Down Meeting

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama sat down with Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday, the first substantial meeting between the countries' leaders in more than 50 years.

According to a White House pool report from the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Obama and Castro, the brother of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, met in a small room in the convention center, and were seated next to each other in "the same set up as when world leaders are hosted in the Oval Office‎."

"This is obviously an historic meeting," Obama said. After 50 years of U.S. embargo toward Cuba, "it was time for us to try something new, that it was important for us to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult, I think, for our countries to communicate."

Following Obama's remarks, Raul Castro said the two nations could have differences "with respect of the ideas of the others."

"We could be persuaded of some things of others, we might not be persuaded," Castro said. "But when I say that I agree with everything that the president has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the president has described."

In an indicator of the newfound warmth between the two countries, he said, "We shall open our embassies. We shall visit each other, having exchanges, people to people."

He also said that "everything can be on the table," even discussions of human rights and freedom of the press, the AP reported.

Obama told reporters before departing for Washington that he was still considering whether to remove Cuba from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key priority for Castro.

At the press briefing, Obama said his meeting with Castro could be a “turning point” in the countries’ relationship. "We have very different views of how society should be organized,” Obama said of the Cuban leader. Yet he also told reporters: “Cuba is not a threat to the United States."

On Friday, the two leaders greeted each other and shook hands for the second time ever. A White House official described the encounter as an "informal interaction, with no substantive conversation between the two."

This story has been updated with fuller remarks from Obama and Castro.


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