Fri, Dec 19, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Pope leads praise for ‘historic’ US-Cuba detente


Cuban students march in a street in Havana on Wednesday to celebrate the releaseof three Cuban spies who had been in a US prison since 2001.

Photo: 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 US and Cuba.

The pope sent “warm congratulations” to the former enemies for overcoming “the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

The Vatican said the pope had appealed to US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to end the standoff, offering negotiators the use of his offices in October, paving the way for “solutions acceptable to both parties.”

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton — now seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US presidential elections — 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,” she added.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted that his country — which never broke off ties with Cuba — had also played a part by hosting the first secret talks last year, and welcomed the “overdue development.”

The EU, which is moving to normalize ties with Cuba, hailed the announcement as a “historical turning point.”

“Today another wall has started to fall,” EU Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Representative Federica Mogherini said.

The EU hoped ultimately to be able to “expand relations with all parts of Cuban society,” she added.

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,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said at the Argentina summit.

Venezuela is Cuba’s closest ally and one of its biggest benefactors. Maduro immediately claimed the thaw as“a moral victory”and “a victory for Fidel.”

Praising Pope Francis, who turned 78 on Wednesday, Maduro said: “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.”

“This is the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas,” Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said.

In Europe, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the move was “of great significance” and seized the opportunity to urge Cuba to improve its record on human rights.

“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.”

In the center of Havana, overjoyed Cubans took to the streets to celebrate the news, voicing hopes that the breakthrough would lead to an economic revival.

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