President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met each other for the first time in person at the Americas Summit Saturday, April 11, the first such meeting between heads of both states since 1956. Since the December 17, 2014 surprise announcement that the Obama Administration would endeavor to thaw relations with the Cold War Communist holdover nation there has been much aplomb and criticism, but very little visible progress thus far.
“This is obviously a historic meeting,” said Obama, who spoke first after they sat down in polished, wooden chairs for their talks on the sidelines of the 35-nation Summit of the Americas in Panama City.
”We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future,” he said, adding that the immediate task was to reopen embassies.
Castro, 83, broke into a smile when Obama acknowledged that the two sides will continue to have differences on human rights and other issues.
After Obama spoke, the two men stood up and shook hands.
Saying he agreed with everything Obama said, Castro acknowledged that the two governments can still have differences but “with respect of the ideas of the others.”
“We are willing to discuss everything but we need to be patient, very patient,” he said “We already expressed to some American friends in other occasions that we are willing to talk about everything.”
When Castro said he hoped the US and Cuban delegations will listen to their presidents’ instructions, Obama laughed.
The diplomatic effort to engage and possibly bring in Cuba from the cold has been met with much skepticism and negativity by a bipartisan range of hawks, from Anti-Castro Cuban activists to Republican politicians, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is announcing his candidacy for President on the evening of April 13.
Like some other recent Obama legacy-sealing moves, it is thought that if enough ground can be made between now and January 2017 it would be too late by that time to roll back reconciliation if a new administration fundamentally opposes the move.
The next steps for Obama and the Castro regime will be to reach accords on opening Embassies, removing the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, and a permanent agreement on the status of Guantanamo Bay.