INTERNATIONAL

Obama’s Cuba shift opens new era in ties with the region

Cuba’s President Raul Castro during a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama Cityon Saturday.— PHOTO: AFP

Cuba’s President Raul Castro during a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama Cityon Saturday.— PHOTO: AFP  

U.S., Cuban Presidents had the first meeting between heads of their respective countries in over 50 years

The historic meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday before the Summit of the Americas closed provided the U.S. and Latin America with an opportunity to move beyond a history of grievances and mistrust and set a course of closer cooperation.



The conciliatory tone was set by Mr. Castro, who joked that since Cuba had been barred from the previous summits he was entitled to speak well beyond the eight minutes allotted to each of the 30-plus heads of state in attendance.

“Since you owe me six summits when you excluded me, six times eight is 48,” he said to laughter. While much of Mr. Castro’s meandering remarks consisted of condemnation of U.S. aggression, the high point came when the aging Cuban leader, in an abrupt about face, professed admiration for Mr. Obama, saying he had read his two memoirs and was convinced that he was an “honest man” who hadn’t forgotten his humble roots.

“I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the revolution,” Mr. Castro said, noting that Obama wasn’t even born when the U.S. imposed sanctions on the communist island. “I apologise to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.” The two leaders later sat down for the first meeting between Cuban and American heads of state since before the 1959 revolution that deposed Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.

Even Mr. Maduro eased up, forgoing a threat to deliver a petition signed by 10 million Venezuelans calling on Obama to repeal the sanctions. Instead, as what he called the “Summit of the Truth” was closing, he also briefly spoke with Mr. Obama in a private exchange that Mr. Maduro said could open the door to meaningful dialogue between the two nations.









The U.S. and Latin American leaders avoided a final joint declaration. But the mood was considerably warmer than at the last summit in Colombia in 2012, which ended with many leaders saying they would never hold another with the U.S. unless Cuba was included.

In another small thaw, Ms. Rousseff announced she was accepting an invitation to visit to the White House, a trip she’d scrapped in 2013 after revelations of NSA spying on her private communications. — AP



The mood was considerably warmer than at the last summit in Colombia in 2012



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