President Barack Obama had a momentous meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday, April 11, 2015 at the Panama City Convention Center.
The presidents had been communicating for days prior to the formal meeting. Before Obama arrived in Panama, he spoke with Castro on phone and discussed the groundwork for new relations between the United States and Cuba. On Friday night, Obama and Castro greeted each other by shaking hands before dining at the inaugural session of the conference. The two sat at the same table.
This gathering was remarkable because a U.S. and Cuban leader have not had a substantial meeting since 1959. Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met in 1958, and the next year, former Cuban President Fidel Castro met with Richard Nixon, who was vice president at the time.
“I am surprised it took this long for the presidents to meet, and it’s a good thing they finally did,” says junior Ryan Craver.
Obama and Castro met for about an hour. Both presidents told reporters before the meeting that after 50 years of unchanged policy, it was time to try something new.
One major topic of discussion was taking Cuba off of the state-sponsored terror list. Removal was a top priority for Castro because it would help the pride of Cuba, and would financially help Cuba. Castro said Cuba should never have been on the list in the first place.
The United States has stopped accusing Cuba of terror, and Obama signaled that he was ready to take Cuba off that list. The State Department provided Obama with a review of the terror report to read before making any decisions.
On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, Obama decided to take Cuba of the list, which will greatly improve relations between the two countries.
“Cuba should be removed from the list, especially since they haven’t been accused of terrorism in a long time,” says freshman Liam Craver.
Obama and Castro also pledged to not fight the battles of the Cold War.
“The Cold War has been over for a long time,” said Obama. “I’m not interested in having battles, frankly, that began before I was born.”
A noticeable and surprising moment during the meeting was what Castro had to say about Obama.
“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.”
Castro acted very pleasantly toward Obama and wants to have a good relationship with the president. This is very different from former interactions between presidents from both countries.
Obama announced in December that he wanted to open up diplomatic relations with Cuba, and he also discussed opening embassies in Washington and Havana.
The Obama administration began chipping away at the embargo placed on Cuba, and the administration is now allowing more trade and travel between the two countries.
Although Cuba and the United States have made progress in improving their relationship, they still have many obstacles in their way to fully repair relations. However, both presidents believe they can overcome those obstacles.
Why do you think the United States are so focused on improving relations with Cuba?