Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro have made history – shaking hands in a symbolically charged gesture as they seek to restore ties after decades of hostility between the US and Cuba.
Their first formal face to face came at the start of the Summit of the Americas in Panama, dominated by the rapprochement between the Cold War enemies.
The US leader, not even born at the time of Cuba’s revolution, said his country no longer seeks to impose its will on Latin America.
“We are respectful of the differences among our countries,” Obama said, just before the summit got underway.
“The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.”
On relations with Havana, Obama said:“The United States begins a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba. We hope it will create an environment that improves the lives of the Cuban people.”
Obama and Castro are expected to meet again on Saturday and talk about their efforts to restore full diplomatic relations and boost trade and travel between the two countries.
The US looks close to removing Cuba from a list of countries it says sponsor terrorism.
Doing so would clear a major obstacle in the effort to restore diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, paving the way for the reopening of embassies that have been shut for 54 years.
But there is no reconciliation in sight with communist-run Cuba’s closest ally Venezuela.
Its president Nicolas Maduro took a swipe at Washington on his arrival for the summit by visiting a monument to victims of the US invasion of Panama in 1989.
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