STATESIDE STORIES: Castro and Obama Shake on It

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Although this detente would be a feather in Obama’s cap, only Congress can fully lift the U.S. sanctions on Cuba and there is
substantial opposition to this step

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By Mary Foran

At the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Raul Castro and President Barack Obama sat down for an unprecedented face-to-face meeting and shook hands in greeting and in agreement that it was high time for a change for the better in the relationship between the two often opposed nations.

It was the first formal meeting of the two countries’ leaders in a half-century. The first such meeting was in 1958 between Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista who was then in charge of Cuba, an island nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

When Cuba turned communist, the U.S. spent the Cold War trying to isolate Cuba with economic sanctions, or even to overthrow the Cuban government. “The Cold War is over,” Obama said, adding that the sanctions were in place before he was born.

“We are disposed to talk about everything-with patience,” Castro said in Spanish. “Some things we will agree with, and others we won’t.” The hour-long meeting wasn’t publicized in advance, although White House aides suggested that the two leaders were looking for an opportunity to meet while in Panama to discuss the ongoing efforts to open embassies in Havana and Washington, including other issues.

The tardy detente. Better late than never! (Official white House photo/Pete Souza)

The tardy detente. Better late than never!
(Official White House photo/Pete Souza)

Obama called the conversation “candid and fruitful” and said, “What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility, and that over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

Raul Castro said through a translator,”I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the revolution.” He summarized a list of grievances against the U.S. under previous Administrations, adding that he apologized to President Obama because he “had no responsibility for this.”

Castro wants Cuba to be taken off the list of countries which sponsor terrorism, conceding that “yes, we have conducted solidarity with other peoples that could be considered terrorism–when we were cornered, when we were strongly harassed. We had no other choice but to give up or to fight back.”

Obama said the U.S. would continue pressing Cuba on issues like democracy and human rights. “We have very different views about how society should be organized” Obama told reporters before returning to Washington.

Although this detente would be a feather in Obama’s cap as far as his Presidential legacy goes,only Congress can fully lift the U.S. sanctions on Cuba and there is substantial opposition to this step.

Cuban refugees in Florida have mixed feelings about the detente with the Castro regime, but islanders are hopeful that an easing of tensions will be reached.

 

Obama-Castro footage by footage (White House/Pete Souza)

Obama-Castro footage by footage (White House/Pete Souza)

 

For the historic meeting, watch video.

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Featured image: White House/Amanda Lucidon