PANAMA. – Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama finally met this Saturday, April 11, during a break in the sessions of the last day of the 7th Summit of the Americas, a meeting highly anticipated by everyone here.
After each had made his speech and moments after posing for the usual Official Photo, the two leaders gathered for the meeting in a small room at the ATLAPA Convention Center.
There, Raúl said that the key aspect is that we are willing to discuss everything, including human rights and press freedom. These and other issues relating to Cuba and also the United States.
I think everything can be discussed, if done so with mutual respect, the Cuban President considered. “It may be that we convince each other of certain things, but not others.”
We should be under no illusions, he warned, we have many differences and a complex history, but we are ready to move forwards in these meetings to establish diplomatic relations.
Raúl referred to the opening of embassies, increased visits between the two countries and to engage in all the issues pertinent to “such close neighbors”.
We can talk about everything with patience, even in these times when life moves so fast, he said. We hope that our closest collaborators know how to comply with the instructions of both Presidents.
Obama for his part, said that the history between the U.S. and Cuba was complicated, as there has been a climate of mistrust for a long time. After 50 years it is time for us to try something new, he said.
It is important to maintain contact between the two governments and peoples, he added. “We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future, we will leave behind the things that complicated the past.”
Obama said the two peoples have positively supported the changes. As exchanges increase I believe there will be more direct contact and greater connection between our countries, he said.
There will continue to be deep and significant differences, we will continue to attempt to “raise concerns about democracy and human rights.”
“As Raúl said in his impassioned speech they are also attempting to raise those concerns,” Obama noted, later adding that, “Over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”
We want our diplomats to have more daily contact, he said, to the point of opening the two embassies.
“Thanks to Castro for the spirit of openness that he has demonstrated towards us.” We can continue to construct our relationship based on mutual respect, he said.
Castro spoke in his speech of the hardships that the Cubans have had to endure, my policy is to help them to be more prosperous, “the Cubans are an enlightened, intelligent and brilliant people,” he concluded.
Also attending the relaxed meeting were Susan Rice, National Security adviser; Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security adviser; and Ricardo Zúñiga, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. Representing Cuba were Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; Alejandro Castro Espín and Juan Francisco Arias Fernández, both of the Commission for National Security and Defense; and MINREX Director General for the United States, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.