The road to a new beginning: United States and Cuba meet at Summit of the Americas

After Fidel Castro came into power and nationalized more than $1 billion in American assets, the U.S. began enforcing sanctions against Cuba. Diplomatic relations were cut in 1961 as Cuba signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War, freezing any civil relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. On April 11, 2015, nearly 50 years since the embargo was initially placed, President Obama and Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, shook hands at what Obama believes to be a “new beginning” in the bilateral relationship with Cuba.

At the beginning of the meeting, Obama said more Americans will be able to travel to Cuba, which in turn will provide an opportunity for investments, trade and cultural exchange. One of the biggest concerns regarding Cuba is the economic embargo on the Castro-commanded island. On Saturday, Obama said he would encourage the United States Congress to start working on the removal of the economic blockade.

Additionally, Obama challenged Latin American leaders to work toward an emphasis on human rights and democracy as he begins to mend decades of loose ties and poor relations with Cuba.

“I believe our governments together have an obligation to uphold the universal freedoms and rights of all our citizens,” Obama said in a speech. “The voices of our citizens must be heard.”

However, the attention seemed to be more centralized on Castro when a planned six-minute speech turned into a 50-minute address lecturing leaders on the Cuban Revolution and expanding on a 50 years worth list of grievances. Despite Castro’s tangent, he did mention his trust in Obama as well as his respect toward him for wanting to reconcile with Cuba.

“In my opinion, President Obama is an honest man,” Castro said through an interpreter. “I admire him, and I think his behavior has a lot to do with his humble background.”

The meeting on Saturday is not being documented as an official bilateral session, however, administrations on both sides are still describing the meeting as the highest-level interaction with the Cuban government since then Vice-President Richard Nixon met with Fidel Castro in 1959.
Historically, Congress’s response to ending the embargo has never been a particularly positive one, and this time is no different. U.S. lawmakers are irritated with the idea of opening access and trade to what they believe is a corrupt government. Contrarily, Latin America welcomed Obama with open arms after announcing his plans to open an embassy in Havana as well as remove the economic barriers between the two countries.

After much applause during a session on Friday, Obama noted that this was the first summit with Cuba present. But even after much excitement, the years of disagreement between the two countries were still apparent. Cuban government supporters viciously attacked protestors of the Castro regime, an action the United States government noted as unacceptable.

“As we move toward the process of normalization, we’ll have our differences, government to government, with Cuba on many issues – just as we differ at times with other nations within the Americas, just as we differ with our closest allies,” Obama said at a meeting with civil society members on Friday. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”


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