President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro met in the first sit-down talks between the top leaders of U.S. and Cuba in more than a half-century Saturday afternoon.
Obama said the U.S. is ready to “turn the page” with Cuba but significant differences remain. “This is obviously an historic meeting,” he said. After 50 years of policy that had not worked, “it was time for us to try something new.”
The discussion is the most meaningful face-to-face encounter between U.S. and Cuban presidents since Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met in 1956 — incidentally, at another summit like this one organized by the Organization of American States in Panama.
Castro said the two nations can have differences but respect each other’s ideas. “We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient,” the Cuban leader said. “We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.”
Earlier Saturday, Obama and Castro gave starkly different speeches at the Summit of the Americas. The speeches were the first official order of the summit’s second and final day. “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said during his address Saturday afternoon before the two leaders met. “We’re looking to the future.”
Castro began his 46-minute speech by saying he had asked for more time than the allotted eight minutes for his discourse, because he’d been banned from the previous six summits, drawing laughs from the room. In an impassioned speech, Castro at times pounded the table as he recounted previous perceived hostility from the United States stretching back to U.S. intervention during the Cuban War of Independence in 1898, the Platt Amendment, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the ongoing economic embargo.
“None of this is the responsibility of President Obama,” Castro said, repeatedly praising the American president. He added: “President Obama is an honest man.”
The speeches come on the heels of a historic handshake by the two leaders at the summit late Friday, seen as another step toward defrosting five decades of icy relations between the countries. The White House said the interaction was informal and the leaders didn’t engage in substantive conversation then. The pair spoke by phone Wednesday to pave the way for more meaningful discourse here.
Also Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave an expected fiery speech accusing the United States of intervening in its affairs. Last month, the White House announced sanctions against seven high-ranking Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations and jailing opposition leaders.
Maduro accused the U.S. of plotting an assassination attempt against him but also said he was not “anti-United States” just “anti-imperialism.” He cited his admiration of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Rick Jervis