The US and Cuba could be closer than ever to restoring diplomatic ties as the leaders of the two countries are set to meet for the first time in more than 50 years.
President Barack Obama did not have a formal meeting scheduled with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas going on right now in Panama, but the White House indicated the two are likely to meet on the sidelines of the summit, the Associated Press reported.
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
In pictures: Timeline of US and Cuba relations
1/19 Cuba timeline
July 1953: Fidel Castro begins a revolutionary campaign against the regime of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista
2/19 Cuba timeline
January 1959: Castro and Che Guevara enter Havana after a successful final offensive. Batista flees, and Castro becomes prime minister, ruling by decree
3/19 Cuba timeline
October 1960: Castro’s reforms sees hundreds of US businesses in Cuba nationalised and their owners not compensated. In December, US US breaks off diplomatic relations and imposes a trade embargo
4/19 Cuba timeline
April 1961: Cuban exiles launch the Bay of Pigs invasion with US backing
5/19 Cuba timeline
October 1962: A 13-day confrontation known as the Cuban missile crisis begins when Castro allows the USSR to deploy nuclear missiles on the island. Generally regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear war
6/19 Cuba timeline
1962: US President John F Kennedy signs off a naval blockade
7/19 Cuba timeline
April 1980: A sharp downturn in the Cuban economy and Castro temporarily lifting restrictions sees around 125,000 people, many of them released convicts, flee to the US
8/19 Cuba timeline
February 1996: Cuba shoots down two US aircraft operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles, prompting the US to make its trade embargo permanent
9/19 Cuba timeline
June 2001: The case of the “Cuban Five” begins, as five spies in Miami are convicted of providing intelligence to the Havana government
10/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2001: US sells $30m of food to the Cuban government to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, which killed 22 people, the first food export between the countries for more than 40 years
11/19 Cuba timeline
Oct 2003: US President George W Bush announces fresh anti-communist measures, including tightening the travel embargo and creating a new government body, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba
12/19 Cuba timeline
Aug 2006: President Bush seizes the opportunity of President Castro’s illness and a handover of powers to Raul Castro, urging Cubans to work towards democratic change
13/19 Cuba timeline
Feb 2008: Raul Castro officially takes over as president. Washington responds by saying its trade embargo will remain in force unless free and fair elections are held
14/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2008: A poll by Florida International University suggests for the first time that a majority of Cuban-Americans living in Miami want an end to the embargo
15/19 Cuba timeline
April 2009: President Obama lifts restrictions on family travel to Cuba
16/19 Cuba timeline
Dec 2009: US aid worker Alan Gross is detained in Cuba on suspicion of spying for Washington
17/19 Cuba timeline
Nov 2010: American Ballet Theatre performs in Cuba for the first time in 50 years, the most high-profile in a series of cultural exchanges
18/19 Cuba timeline
Sep 2012: Cuba hints at its willingness to do a deal with Washington on the Gross case
19/19 Cuba timeline
December 2013: President Obama and Raul Castro shake hands at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Castro says in English: “Mr President, I am Castro.” It was hailed in Cuba as “the beginning of the end” for what were then described as “US aggressions”
“The United States will not be imprisoned by the past,” Mr Obama said on Saturday at the conference in Panama. “We're looking to the future.”
The two leaders exchanged a brief handshake on Friday, only the second time they have done so and the first in a political setting – the previous handshake occurred at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. The handshake and pleasantries indicate a major thawing in relations between the two countries.
President Obama in December announced his intentions to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and since has been taking small steps in that direction. The goal is to reopen embassies in Washington DC and Havana, respectively.
The US and Cuba have not had diplomatic relations since 1959, when the communist revolution headed by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro toppled a US-backed government in the Caribbean country.
While speaking at the summit, Mr Castro aired plenty of past grievances his country has with the US, but called the US president an “honest man” and said those things in the past are not on the shoulders of Mr Obama.
It is not clear exactly what the two leaders will discuss, if they meet as expected, but an end to the Cuban embargo and the removal of Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorist likely will come up in the discussion.
Cuba’s presence on the terrorism-sponsor list has been a point of contention for the Cubans. Mr Obama has indicated his is willing to consider Cuba’s removal from the list.
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