Obama and Castro: A Handshake Beyond the Differences

By Isaac Risco (dpa)

Raul Castro and Barack Obama shaking hands at the Summit of the Americas on April 10, 2015 in Panama. Ban Ki Moon looks on. Photo: telesur.net
Raul Castro and Barack Obama shaking hands at the Summit of the Americas on April 10, 2015 in Panama. Ban Ki Moon looks on. Photo: telesur.net

HAVANA TIMES — The historic handshake on Friday evening between Barack Obama and Raul Castro dazzled the Summit of the Americas in Panama, if only to temporarily cover the profound differences between the presidents of the United States and Cuba.

It was the first time the two leaders met face-to-face after the diplomatic thaw announced in December.

Obama and Castro, who had already similarly greeted each other 16 months ago in South Africa at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, staged the new era between the two countries with a new handshake, this time surrounded by most Latin American leaders and recorded by television cameras.

“I must express (…) our great joy at this historical moment we live today,” said the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Manuel Insulza, shortly after the opening ceremony of the summit, celebrating the assistance for the first time of the 35 countries of the continent.

UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, also invited to the event, congratulated Castro and Obama for their “leadership” in the process of resuming relations between the two countries.

The expectations are huge on conversations that both presidents will have on Saturday, the final day of the summit, although a formal bilateral meeting is not scheduled.

The differences between the two countries, at odds ideologically for over five decades, were relegated to the background during the summit but not forgotten.

“The United States cannot push for Cuba to accept one thing it has never accepted,” recalled Cuban analyst Esteban Morales, referring to demands for greater political and economic openness that is often heard in Washington.

The political scientist also pointed to the usual assumptions in these days of diplomatic thaw on the possibility that US businesses expropriated after the revolution of 1959 request compensation from the Cuban state.

Cuba also has “a balance” to present, Morales told dpa. “At the time when the United States puts on the table (the subject of) compensation, we will put on the table the costs of the blockade,” he predicted.

Already during a speech made to all Latin American countries of CELAC in late January, Raul Castro demanded that Washington compensate Cuba for damages caused by the half-century embargo on Havana and return Guantanamo Bay, as a prelude to full normalization of bilateral ties.

However, apart from the summit itself, differences focusing on civil rights, historically the main point of contention between the two countries, were evident.

A delegation of Cuban government activists abandoned the Civil Society Forum in the afternoon, a parallel meeting of representatives of civil society from across the continent.

Castro supporters refused to share the space with a score of Cuban dissidents who had come to Panama to be at the forum. During the three days of the event held at the Hotel El Panama there were protests and incidents between the two groups.

We must “hear everyone,” Obama told the same forum Friday afternoon, in what sounded like a veiled criticism of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela for the harassment of political opponents.

“Civil society is the conscience of our countries (…), for that reason, strong nations do not fear active citizens and welcome citizens who speak openly, although they are not always right,” he added.

Upon leaving the Civil Society Forum, the US President met with more than a dozen activists of the continent, including two Cuban dissidents. Manuel Cuesta Morua and Laritza Diversent, who the Cuban government describes as “mercenaries” paid from abroad to attack the country.

The meeting took place just hours before the historic handshake between Obama and Castro before the leaders from all countries of the continent.


11 thoughts on “Obama and Castro: A Handshake Beyond the Differences

  • April 14, 2015 at 2:50 pm
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    Maybe I prefer the Cuban people to Americans. I trust the Cubans

  • April 13, 2015 at 7:13 pm
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    Why would you suppose that Obama has any interest in closing down Gitmo ?
    As a center-right U.S. politician , he is president of the Imperial United States and that position requires black( secret) prisons where enemies of the Empire can be hidden and tortured.
    It’s part of EVERY presidents job whether it’s a conservative demented Reagan , an idiot like W. Bush or a smooth talker like Obama and you’re deluding yourself if you think that Obama is any different .
    U.S. foreign policy has been predicated upon the preservation and expansion of capitalism to the exclusion of systems like socialism and communism since the joint 1918 U.S. /European invasion of the just-born Soviet Union.
    That’s a 100 year history that every U.S. president since has followed to the letter.
    Obama would not have ever been considered for president by the very wealthy whose money he could not have been elected without, were he any sort of a moral person.
    A moral president of the United States ( -as it has been for at least that 100 years -) is an oxymoron; a contradiction in terms.
    If you are one it is impossible to be the other.

  • April 12, 2015 at 1:09 pm
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    Castro is a hero…..how so?
    …was it when he denied Cubans the right to travel? Or perhaps when he rationed food? Maybe it’s when he made potatoes a luxury item. Oh wait, I know, it’s when he reduced the number of cattle to less than half of what existed in 1959 and effectively eliminated beef from the Cuban menu. My personal Castro “hero” story is when he took my families grocery story and placed my father in a work camp because he would not join the communist party.

    I know you “love” Cuba, but why not visit Miami so you can sample traditional Cuban cuisine ….which is, for the most part, no longer to be found on the island.

  • April 12, 2015 at 9:51 am
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    It’s a sad commentary on United States foreign policy that it took 50 years for another president to reach out in friendship to Cuba. The last one who tried to do that was assassinated by his own government, as peaceful coexistence has never been the goal of the US military-industrial-intelligence complex.

    For the story of JFK’s entreaty to Fidel Castro, Google: JFK & Fidel Castro – The Promise of Revolutionary Co-Existence – Turning the Tide.

  • April 12, 2015 at 8:39 am
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    This was much overdue. Let’s hope Rubio or Bush dont become President and go back to the failed policies of the past.

  • April 12, 2015 at 5:08 am
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    Have you no hope for a better Cuba? Your comments reflect the changes that you hope that the US will make but nothing from the Castros. Is the right of free speech or freedom of assembly to remain forever beyond a Cuban’s reach?

  • April 11, 2015 at 4:54 pm
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    It’s about time

  • April 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm
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    I know Laura Diversent. She is a wife, mom, and lawyer. Calling her a mercenary is ridiculous. She lives in a tiny unpainted concrete house! She is also very brave and very sincere. Castro State Security keeps her under constant surveillance. After all, she is an Internet blogger and we all know how dangerous they can be.

  • April 11, 2015 at 12:34 pm
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    Settling all accounts will take decades and in the end someone will always be dissatisfied. No need to hold the present hostage to the past while we move forward. Look at those poor Palestinian people having passed on multiple chances to have a state as they fight on for a perfect solution that is not going to happen. Sometimes you just take the deal in front of you and move on.

  • April 11, 2015 at 11:44 am
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    This was a sad, decades-long chapter in the history of the Americas, which needed to end. Barack and Castro have my respect for giving diplomacy a chance, over the threats & warmongering that have never worked.

  • April 11, 2015 at 10:59 am
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    Sure am happy to see embargoes lifted, America was very cruel to Cuba and the world knows it, Fidel is the HERO and we wish all the best to Cuba and all my Cuban friends that I’ve been lucky enough to encounter over the past 15 years of my travelling to Cuba .Let’s hope Cubans have learned from this encounter and never ever let a foreign country ever take over their jewel of a country however we still have an ELEPHANT in the room. It’s Bush’s Torture Chamber called GITMO, I suspect Obama will shut down that terrible hell hole that left a black mark on America.I will keep on visiting my friends,however with all these political moves, I doubt if we will continue visiting my second home.

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