By Kate Kilpatrick
Latin America’s top officials appeared unanimous in their celebration Wednesday of a new chapter in United States-Cuba relations, which will witness the renewal of diplomatic ties and the easing of sanctions that have helped raze the Cuban economy.
Latin America has long lobbied the U.S. to lift its 55-year embargo against Cuba.
Venezuela, Cuba’s strongest ally in the region, called the news a “moral” and “historic” victory. President Nicolás Maduro, whose own country is at risk of U.S. sanctions due to political repression, said the release of the three Cuban detainees marks “a victory for Fidel and the Cuban people.”
Somewhat surprisingly, he also praised his U.S. counterpart.
“We must recognize the gesture of Barack Obama, his courage,” said Maduro. “It might be the most important act of his presidency. Obama has said he cannot continue insisting one bringing Cuba to collapse.”
Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa called the announcement “good news” for Latin America. “The reestablishment of relations is an historic diplomatic event,” he wrote on his Twitter account, adding that the governments of the U.S. and Cuban deserve equal credit.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called Cuba a “brother country” that deserves “equal status and equal rights with all other countries of the hemisphere.” Peña Nieto said his government fully endorses normalized relations between the United States and Cuba, and will continue to take actions to support the island nation.
Peru also pointed to its strong ties with Cuba, where many Peruvian students study medicine. President Ollanta Humala appeared on Peruvian TV to applaud the “important, historic and courageous step,” pointing out that Peru has long supported greater integration of Cuba in the region.
Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner offered her “deep respect to the Cuban people and their government,” which she commended for upholding their ideals while moving forward with post-blockade relations.
Kirchner called for ongoing diplomacy and constructive dialogue, along with the support of the entire region. “Cooperation without grudges,” she said, “recognizing the difficulty of the task and sincerely supporting it. Helping to obtain a result without looking for anything in return.”
Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos said his government would do whatever is needed to make the next Summit of the Americas — set to take place in Panama City in 2015 — a historic reunion. He stressed the thaw in tensions was “great news for the region and the world.”
“On behalf of all the Colombian people and I think the whole continent, we celebrate the boldness and courage of President Obama and the Cuban government to make this decision,” Santos said. “It is a fundamental step for the normalization of the two countries that will impact very well in the hemisphere.”
Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela was also looking toward the next Summit of the Americas, to be held in April. “I welcome the new era in U.S.-Cuba relations,” Varela tweeted. “At the Summit of the Americas we will fulfill the dream of a united region.”
In Chile, Minister of Foreign Relations Heraldo Muñoz called the Obama and Castro speeches the beginning of the end of the cold war in the Americas. “The cold war persisted in our region, in our American hemisphere,” Muñoz said, citing the blockade and absence of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. “So this is a step to make that definitively the past.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in a statement, called the joint-messages a “new era in the history of our America and the Caribbean,” one of restitution for Cubans of the rights “that had been usurped by North American authorities.” Ortega said Cuba “keeps surprising the world with the deployment of all its capabilities.”
Several of the leaders highlighted the role of Pope Francis, who Maduro referred to as “the Latin American pope,” in mediating between the two nations.
“Congratulations to his Holiness Pope Francis on his birthday and for his valiant efforts in search of American unity,” Panama’s Varela tweeted.
“Coming from our lands,” said Ortega, “[Pope Francis] has managed to promote equitable solutions to repair damage and historical mistakes.”
Credit: Al Jazeera News, http://america.aljazeera.com; Photo credit: U.S. President Barack Obama.