Obama: New Cuba relationship a ‘turning point’ for region
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President Obama on Saturday predicted a new tomorrow for the Americas following recent repairs to U.S-Cuba relations that began earlier this year.
“This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region,” Obama told an assembly of Latin and North American leaders at the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City.
“The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion,” he added of his interactions with Cuban leader Raúl Castro.
Obama’s remarks come as his administration tries improving relations with Castro’s after decades of tension. The two plan on meeting later Saturday in a landmark encounter.
“I’m not interested in having battles that frankly started before I was born,” Obama said of the prolonged rivalry between Havana and Washington, D.C. “The Cold War’s been over for a long time.”
President Obama hailed overall relations with Latin America as “good as they’ve ever been.” With this in mind, he said he felt a “commitment” to softening the animosity between Cuba and the U.S.
Seeking warmer dealings with Cuba, Obama added, would improve the regional economy.
“It will mean more Americans traveling to Cuba, more commerce,” he predicted.
Obama and Castro notably shook hands Friday night during the summit. The typically innocuous gesture marked a rare show of respect between them.
The pair also spoke over the phone Wednesday. Their chat was only the second since Obama announced America’s thaw with Cuba late last December.
Prominent Republicans likely seeking their party’s 2016 presidential nomination quickly criticized the president’s friendly overtures Saturday.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose parents are Cuban. “This is the country that has the third most active espionage force in America today, operating against us, [and also has] military officials who have been indicted in federal court for the murder of U.S. citizens over international waters.”
“Obama meets with Castro but refused to meet w/ @Netanyahu,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted, referencing Obama’s snub last month of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Why legitimize a cruel dictator of a repressive regime?” he added.
Neither Bush nor Rubio have officially declared White House runs. Rubio is heavily rumored to launch his campaign Monday in Miami.
The State Department on Thursday completed its assessment of Cuba’s place on its list of states that sponsor terrorism. President Obama will next review their findings before deciding whether that designation remains appropriate.
The agency formally requested Obama remove Cuba from the list Wednesday evening. That decision reveals State officials believe Cuba has not directly supported terrorism during the last six months or more.
The Obama administration detailed reduced restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba in January. The monumental shift in policy normalizes diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century.
- Updated at 1:21 p.m.