Raul Castro and President Obama shook hands on Tuesday, marking the first time since the Cuban revolution that the leaders of Cuba and the U.S. have met on American soil.
At the U.N. General Assembly in New York earlier this week, the 84 year old Cuban President explained what is necessary in order to normalize relations between the two countries. As reiterated by Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, the “embargo that has caused damages and hardships to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens must be lifted and the territory occupied by the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba.” Castro also insists that the economic sanctions be removed.
America’s trade embargo on Cuba has become the most enduring of its kind in modern history. As the call to end the 53-year-old embargo grows louder, disputes remain regarding Cuba’s desire for economic reparations and America’s hope for an improvement on democracy and human rights.
During his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, President Obama expressed his desire for the normalization and stressed the removal of the embargo. “Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations,” he said.
The White House issued a statement after the meeting saying that Obama “highlighted steps the U.S. intends to take to improve ties between the American and Cuban peoples, and reiterated our support for human rights in Cuba.” The Cuban foreign minister later described the meeting as a “respectful and constructive climate.”
While this may have been the first meeting of its kind between Raúl Castro and President Obama, the two leaders have talked a few times, including a rare phone call just before Pope Francis’ recent visit.
The two leaders also talked earlier this month after the U.S. announced that American companies are allowed to establish a physical presence on the island. This change will make it much easier for people to travel back and forth, invest, and open businesses in Cuba.
The meeting this week was another step forward towards normalization, but much more progress needs to be made before interactions between the two countries can be considered “normal.”
For example, despite the fact that travel policies between the U.S. and Cuba were loosened last year, it was not until this July that Cuban officials inaugurated their embassy in Washington, D.C. And in August, for the first time in more than 50 years, an American flag was raised in Cuba at the U.S. embassy.