News / USA

    Obama, Castro Shake Hands at Summit of Americas

    Obama, Castro Shake Handsi
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    Luis Ramirez
    April 11, 2015 5:30 AM
    President Obama has met and shaken hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since announcing his intention last December to normalize relations with communist Cuba. The brief encounter happened Friday at the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The handshake is to be followed by a more substantial conversation between the two leaders Saturday. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez is traveling with the U.S. president and has this report from Panama City.
    Luis Ramirez

    U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro greeted each other Friday evening and shook hands at the Summit of the Americas here.

    Obama administration officials said the interaction between the two leaders was informal, without substantive conversation.  

    But Obama and Castro are expected to meet on Saturday.

    Obama said earlier Friday he is pleased that Cuba is being represented for the first time at the summit.  

    He said in a speech to civil society leaders at the summit that he hopes efforts to restore U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba will improve the lives of the Cuban people.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Obama and Castro at the summit's opening ceremony.

    "I would like to once again commend the leadership of President Obama of the United States and President Castro for initiating normalization of bilateral relations,'' he said.

    Courting change

    Obama, in his address, called civil society "the conscience of our countries. It’s the catalyst of change." He added, "Strong nations don’t fear active citizens. Strong nations embrace and support and empower active citizens."

    Referring to a telephone conversation between the two leaders on Wednesday, Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes said they reviewed efforts to fully restore U.S- Cuban diplomatic relations, but "differences" still remain between them.

    Those differences were evident ahead of Obama’s arrival late Thursday in Panama City, when Castro supporters attacked Cuban dissidents who were laying a wreath to a bust of Cuban hero Jose Marti outside the Cuban Embassy, kicking, shoving and insulting them.

    Dissident speaks out

    Among those attacked was Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, a dissident who traveled to Panama from Cuba. Speaking to VOA from a wheelchair, she said the assailants came out of the Cuban Embassy. The dissident said she wants the world to see what the Cuban government is doing to its people, and she questions Obama’s efforts.

    She said Obama wants to soften his position toward the Havana government, but she wondered what other proof he needs that the Castros are, in her words, "murderers and dictators."

    Obama administration officials said they have expressed serious concerns about the incident and said they made it known the attacks were “grossly inconsistent” with the spirit of dialogue at the summit.

    The incident did not appear to derail Obama’s plans for normalizing ties with the Castro government. At Friday’s Civil Society Forum, Obama said he accepts there are differences.

    "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. There’s nothing wrong with that," said Obama.

    Positive engagement

    Upon his arrival, Obama was welcomed by President Juan Carlos Varela. Panama's leader congratulated him "on all the effort he's doing to unite our continent." The two leaders held bilateral talks on Friday and Obama also made an unannounced tour of the Panama Canal.

    Apart from a couple of brief, informal encounters, the leaders of the United States and Cuba have not had any significant meetings since Castro's older brother Fidel Castro toppled U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in a 1959
    revolution.

    Earlier in Jamaica, Obama stopped short of announcing a U.S. government decision to take Cuba off Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

    "As you know, there’s a process involved in reviewing whether or not a country should be on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list. That review has been completed at the State Department. It is now forwarded to the White House," Obama said.

    But the U.S. leader said he had not yet made a decision.

    "The one thing I will say is that throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts. So we want to make sure that, given that this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations we’ve got strong evidence that, in fact, that’s the case," he said.

    Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate's Foreign Relations panel, confirmed the agency has recommended removing Cuba from the list. "The United States has a unique opportunity to begin a fresh chapter with Cuba,'' he said.

    A man shouts slogans against Cuban pro-government supporters outside the Vasco Nunes De Balboa Convention Center in Panama City, April 8, 2015.A man shouts slogans against Cuban pro-government supporters outside the Vasco Nunes De Balboa Convention Center in Panama City, April 8, 2015.
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    A man shouts slogans against Cuban pro-government supporters outside the Vasco Nunes De Balboa Convention Center in Panama City, April 8, 2015.
    A man shouts slogans against Cuban pro-government supporters outside the Vasco Nunes De Balboa Convention Center in Panama City, April 8, 2015.

    Normalized relations

    Obama has long signaled he is willing to remove the island nation from the list as part of the normalization in diplomatic relations between the two countries he announced late last year after a five-decade split. Three other countries are on the U.S. list, accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism: Syria, Iran and Sudan.

    This week's U.S. overtures to Cuban leaders play against a backdrop of questions about Cuba and human rights – as well as protests.

    WATCH: Related video report by Zlatica Hoke

    Obama to Meet Raul Castro at Panama Summiti
    X
    April 10, 2015 5:32 AM
    President Barack Obama is taking part in a two-day summit in Panama City, where he is expected to encounter Cuban President Raul Castro. It will be the first time in the history of the regional gathering that leaders of both countries are present. Zlatica Hoke reports the warming relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will be the focus of the meeting.

    Sam Verma contributed to this report from Washington

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
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    by: drbaltazar from: st-george,sc
    April 11, 2015 7:25 AM
    Hell ya!ty Cuba USA and everybody in america for making this happen.its a glorious week.I so hoped for this .I'm Canadian (yes all my family was born in Canada)and me having to be in between two we cherish most is a nightmare.I don't want to have to chose between Cuba and USA.Canadian go a lot in Cuba and south america and often we feel like we re entering Gaza strip..it should not be this way.hopefully politic won't be in the way and for the greater good of people they work a peace solution

    by: American from: America
    April 11, 2015 7:11 AM
    Americans want American Policy that is good for America.
    Cubans in Amercia, American Cubans, need to stop looking back at the past and what used to be their homeland and embrace Policy that is good for America as a whole. There is no room for Red vs Blue Cuban Blood vs Crip bull anymore! You are American, get over it and move on. We as Americans are all immigrants, except the Native American. We as Americans are not crying about what the Queen of England drinks for breakfast, take note Americans from Cuba. Choose your homeland.

    by: Charly Hornbrook
    April 10, 2015 6:05 PM
    Let's see now....Hmmm, Oh I get it. A fox and wolf and a sheep sit down and decide what for dinner. A muslim and a communist are going to talk about changing relationships with America. Oh well, one more bungle by our Mr Incompetent probably won't matter much.

    by: Mcl from: houston
    April 10, 2015 6:02 PM
    our trade restriction with Cuba was a resounding success. It demonstrated the bankruptcy of communist ideology. Cubans economy failed under communism. And the failure was not caused by the U.S. embargo. We get everything from China, so could Cuba. What they want is to sell to the US market. Recipricity? I suspect our entry into their "market", if indeed they have a market as such, will be full of their governmental restrictions and obstructions.

    by: George Sayre from: Las Vegas
    April 10, 2015 5:38 PM
    Saint Patrick understood God Almighty.

    by: Ricardo from: Brazil
    April 10, 2015 4:04 PM
    The malignant influence of Fidel Castro is still present in Cuba, but this should not prevent progress in the slow democratization on the island. President Obama is correct, integrate Cuba in the Caribbean community is cheaper and more productive than having to watch a fictitious enemy.

    by: Lou from: Atlanta
    April 10, 2015 9:30 AM
    Hope he can persuade them to TURN OFF THE JAMMERS on short wave. We don't jam theirs. They shouldn't jam ours.

    by: Bearman from: U.S.A.
    April 10, 2015 8:43 AM
    Should be a good meeting for the both of them. Comrades in arms. Similar political agendas.

    by: George Sayre from: Las Vegas
    April 10, 2015 7:30 AM
    Was 911 a military action if so where did the hijackers get the flash drives to fly the planes?
    In Response

    by: craig hill from: yuma az
    April 10, 2015 2:03 PM
    There were no hijackers on any flight. (1) All hijackers named by our govt were soon found to be alive and well in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Their identities as hijackers had been stolen. (2) No name of any hijacker was on any flight manifest. Every occupant on board was identified afterward as good American victims. (3) No pilot, almost always former military people, would allow anyone with a razor blade to take over his plane without opening the door of the aircraft and throwing him out first. That is alone the biggest anti-American slur in the official story, that our airline pilots are frightened pansies. (4) Each plane was remote-controlled to land and fly, a long-time capability of Boeing planes. Lufthansa on Sept 12 immediately ordered every one of its Boeings to be stripped of that capability. Do you really need more? There's about 10,000 more facts disproving the official story of 9/11. Open thy mind.

    by: lone eagle from: Bangkok, Thailand
    April 10, 2015 2:55 AM
    While Cuba has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) it has not ratified this agreement and certainly has not implemented its provisions. Given that it is diffficult to perceive in my lifetime and in President Obama's lifetime when Cuba can become a normal and civilized country with Western liberal democratic values. If recognition of Cuba by the US can lead to political reforms as expressed in the ICCPR then perhaps recognition of Cuba may be worthwhile, but even in Thailand which has signed and ratified the ICCPR and has implemented provisions of the ICCPR, even Thailand has now slid back to a military dictatorship not unlike an authoritarian regime that now exists in Cuba.
    Comments page of 2
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