| Clare Byrne |
PARIS (AFP) – Pope Francis led a chorus of global plaudits for Wednesday’s breakthrough in US-Cuban relations, hailed as “historic” in Europe and South America and prompting celebrations on the streets of Havana.
In a personal coup for the pope, it emerged that the Vatican had played a central role in bringing together the global capitalist superpower and the tiny communist island.
The Argentinian pontiff sent “warm congratulations” to the former arch-foes for overcoming “the difficulties which have marked their recent history”.
The Vatican said the pope had appealed to US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro to end the standoff, offering negotiators his offices in October, paving the way for “solutions acceptable to both parties”.
Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state now seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, endorsed Obama’s move.
“Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power. As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world,” Clinton said in a statement.
“The goal of increased US engagement in the days and years ahead should be to encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people. And the other nations of the Americas should join us in this effort,” Clinton added.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted that his country – which never broke off ties with Cuba – had also played its part by hosting the first secret talks in 2013, and welcomed the “overdue development”. The European Union, which is itself moving to normalise ties with Cuba, hailed the announcement as a “historical turning point.”
“Today another Wall has started to fall,” said EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini, adding that the 28-member bloc hoped ultimately to be able to “expand relations with all parts of Cuban society”.
In South America, the detente elicited a euphoric response from leaders of the five-nation Mercosur bloc meeting in Argentina, who broke into applause at the news.
“We’re living a historic day,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, leader of Cuba’s closest ally and one of its biggest benefactors, at the Argentina summit.
Maduro, whose forerunner Hugo Chavez was a close confidant of Fidel Castro, immediately claimed the thaw as “a moral victory” and “a victory for Fidel”.
Praising Pope Francis, who turned 78 on Wednesday, Maduro noted: “It was with his help, and it’s the best birthday present.” In Bogota, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos saluted “the audacity and courage” of the US and Cuban leaders in helping further “the dream of a continent where there will be absolute peace between nations and within them.”
And Chile’s Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz spoke for those in Latin America who were frustrated by the diplomatic divide, declaring: “This is the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas.”
In Europe, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the move was “of great significance” and seized the opportunity to urge Cuba to improve its rights record.
“This future can only be built on the basis of respect for democracy and human rights,” he told reporters in Madrid.
German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the breakthrough “very good news in these times rich with conflict”.
PARIS (AFP) – The United States and Cuba plan to restore diplomatic relations and end more than five decades of fierce animosity that at one point took the world to the edge of nuclear conflict.
Here is a summary of US-Cuba relations since Fidel Castro seized power in a 1959 revolution:
Jan 1, 1959 – Cuban Revolution. Castro and his rebel army take power after US-backed former dictator Fulgencio Batista flees island.
June 29, 1960 – United States suspends Cuban sugar import quota after Castro nationalises Texaco refinery.
Oct 19, 1960 – United States begins partial economic embargo against Cuba.
Jan 3, 1961 – Washington breaks diplomatic ties with Cuba.
April 19, 1961 – Castro’s troops defeat CIA-backed Cuban exile invasion force at Bay of Pigs.
Jan 22, 1962 – At US urging, the Organization of American States (OAS) suspends Cuba.
Feb 7, 1962 – Full US trade embargo imposed on Cuba.
October 1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis. The presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba provokes standoff between Moscow and Washington. Many fear a world war, but Russia reaches a compromise deal with the United States and withdraws the missiles.
Sept 1, 1977 – Cuba and United States establish informal diplomatic missions, or Interests Sections, in Havana and Washington.
April-September 1980 – Mariel Boatlift. Cuba allows mass exodus of about 125,000 citizens to the United States, mostly via Mariel port west of Havana.
March 1, 1982 – The US State Department adds Cuba to its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Oct 23, 1992 – US President George Bush signs Torricelli Act to tighten embargo on Havana amid severe economic crisis triggered by Soviet bloc’s collapse at start of decade.
Aug 14, 1993 – Havana ends ban on use of US dollars.
August 1994 – Rafter Crisis. More than 30,000 Cubans flee island on flimsy boats. Washington and Havana sign immigration accord to stem exodus and agree to a minimum of 20,000 legal entry visas per year for Cubans.
Feb 24, 1996 – Cuba shoots down two civilian planes of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four people. Brothers to the Rescue says it was on a humanitarian mission looking for rafters fleeing Cuba. Cuba says they had routinely violated Cuban airspace.
March 1996 – Outraged over downing of the planes, US Congress approves Helms-Burton Act, tightening the embargo and requiring a vote of Congress to repeal it. President Bill Clinton, seeking re-election that year, signs the bill into law.
March 20, 1998 – Clinton announces renewal of direct passenger charter flights and permission for Cuban-Americans to send remittances to families on island.
January 1998 – Pope John Paul visits Cuba, condemning US embargo but also calling for greater freedoms on the island.
Nov 25, 1999 – Elian Gonzalez custody saga starts, when six-year-old Cuban boy is rescued at sea off US coast after surviving a shipwreck that kills his mother and 10 other Cuban migrants. After a bitter seven-month dispute, which prompted a massive patriotic campaign in Cuba, Elian flies home to Cuba to be with his father.
July 13, 2001 – US President George W Bush orders his administration to more strictly enforce sanctions and pledges increased support for pro-democracy forces on the island.
November 2001 – Cuba purchases US agricultural products as the two countries begin their first direct food trade since 1962, under an exception to embargo passed by US Congress.
May 6, 2002 – US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton accuses Cuba, along with Libya and Syria, of working to develop biological weapons, a charge Castro denies.
June 30, 2005 – New US curbs on travel come into force as Bush administration tightens enforcement of embargo.
July 10, 2006 – US government announces increased support for dissidents and more money for anti-Castro broadcasts by Radio and TV Marti.
July 31, 2006 – Fidel Castro provisionally cedes power to brother Raul Castro after undergoing surgery for undisclosed intestinal ailment.
Feb 24, 2008 – Raul Castro is elected president by National Assembly, replacing his older brother.
Dec 3, 2009 – Cuba arrests Alan Gross, a US Agency for International Development subcontractor, who had brought banned telecom-munications equipment to Cuba and attempted to establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Jan 20, 2009 – Barack Obama, who has said he wants to take steps toward normalising relations with Cuba, is sworn in as president. He soon goes on to ease US restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba.
Nov 8, 2013 – Obama tells a Miami fundraiser, “We have to be creative and we have to be thoughtful and we have to continue to update our policies” on Cuba.
Dec 14, 2014 – Obama announces plan to restore diplomatic relations in major policy shift. Cuba releases Gross as well as an intelligence agent who spied for the United States and had been held in prison for nearly 20 years. In return, Washington releases three Cuban intelligence agents held in the United States. Obama says the United States will open an embassy in Cuba and relax some of the restrictions on commerce and travel between the United States and Cuba.