On Saturday, President Barack Obama ushered in a new era of relations with Cuba by personally meeting with the country's president, Raul Castro — the first time that a U.S. president and a Cuban head of state have met for any kind of meaningful discussion in well over 50 years.
CNN reports that the meeting occurred during the Summit of the Americas in Panama following a Wednesday phone call between the two leaders. Obama and Castro greeted each other "courteously," shook hands, exchanged conciliatory remarks and talked about how to mend the broken relationship between their two nations.
According to NBC News, a photo like this hasn't been taken since 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista. After Batista was overthrown by Communist rebel leader Fidel Castro in 1959, Castro briefly met with then-Vice President Richard Nixon for a mutually unproductive meeting. The U.S. formally cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 as the latter state grew closer to Soviet influence. A decades-long economic blockade and atmosphere of mutual acrimony ensured, spanning diplomatic crises including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by right-wing expatriates and countless attempts to assassinate Castro.
Today, decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, the American policy of disengagement looks more and more like an anachronistic and unnecessary crudity. But Obama is trying to change that: he's worked to lift many trade and travel restrictions, said he plans to remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and now met with Castro personally to discuss how the two countries can move forward. Soon, they may even re-establish diplomatic ties.
"This is obviously an historic meeting," Obama said, according to CNN. "It was time for us to try something new. We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future."
"The Cold War has been over for a long time," he continued. "I'm not interested in having battles, frankly, that began before I was born."
Castro had a hefty list of grievances but took the time to say one of the first nice things a Cuban leader has said about America in decades: "In my opinion, President Obama in an honest man. I admire him, and I think his behavior has a lot to do with his humble background."
Now, was that so hard?