Historic meeting between Raul Castro and Obama in Panama

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History was made in Panama on Saturday, when President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raul Castro of Cuba met for discussions on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas.

This was the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries for more than half a century. There had previously been no such contact since the Cuban Revolution which brought Fidel Castro, Raul's older brother, to power in 1959. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion, supported by the American CIA, and the decision to establish a communist regime in Cuba at the height of the Cold War, accentuated by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the imposition of a decades long American economic embargo, have characterised the bad relationship that has existed between the two neighbours ever since.

Mr. Obama described the recent improvements in relations between the two countries, with several measures announced in December, as a "turning point." While there has already been a significant easing of some economic restrictions, the embargo officially remains in place, and on Saturday Mr. Castro has called for the lifting of the US economic blockade.

President Obama reiterated his Administration's position that it was time to "try something new" and that it was important for the US to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. He added that over time it would be possible to "turn the page" on old divisions but he acknowledged that there were still significant differences.

Mr Obama said that immediate tasks include normalising diplomatic relationships between the two countries and opening a US embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington DC.

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