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Let’s begin anew: Obama to Cuba

world Updated: Apr 19, 2009 00:00 IST
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1898: The USS Maine explodes in Havana harbor. The Spanish-American War ushers in a period of US dominance in Cuba.
1953: Fidel Castro leads an unsuccessful effort to overthrow the US-backed govt of Fulgencio Batista.
1959: Castro, with help from Ernesto "Che" Guevara, overthrows Batista and forms a new govt.
1960: Castro seizes all American-owned business in Cuba. US ends diplomatic relations with Cuba, initiates an embargo on trade with Cuba.
1961: US backs the failed Bay of Pigs plan to invade Cuba. Cuba becomes a communist state and opens an alliance with the Soviet Union.
1962: The "Cuban Missile Crisis" leads to a nuclear stand-off between the US and Soviet Union.
1980: 125,000 Cubans flee to Florida in the Mariel Boatlift.
1996: Cuba shoots down two civilian airplanes from the US.
1998: Pope John Paul II visits Cuba and calls US embargo deplorable.
2001: US food exports to Cuba are allowed as part of the recovery from Hurricane Michelle.
2002: The US military base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba is used as a prison for terrorist suspects.
2005: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice includes Cuba in her "Outposts of Tyranny.
2006: Castro suffers serious health problems and turns over day-to-day power to his brother, Raul.
2008: Raul Castro official becomes president in February.
US President Barack Obama pledged on Friday to seek a “new beginning” in ties with communist-ruled Cuba as part of a new era of U.S. partnership and engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Before addressing his counterparts in the hemisphere at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, Obama also initiated a handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, one of Washington's most virulent critics in the region.

“We cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements,” Obama told the opening session of the summit after entering the conference center to warm applause.

Obama promised US cooperation to help the region fight the effects of the global economic crisis and confront the challenges of climate change and insecurity posed by drug-trafficking and kidnapping.

But he made a point of referring to Cuba, whose government has been at ideological odds with Washington for half a century following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

“The US seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day,” Obama said in his address.

Regional heads of state, from Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, have called on Obama to end the long-standing US embargo against Cuba.

Obama’s handshake with Chavez also heralded a possible improvement in ties with one of the most important oil suppliers to the US. “We shook hands like gentlemen; it was obvious it was going to happen,” Chavez told reporters later. “President Obama is an intelligent man, different from the previous one.”

A senior US official said Obama went over to Chavez to introduce himself and they shook hands. Asked later by reporters what he had said to Chavez, Obama replied: “I said, ‘Como estas?’” — Spanish for “How are you?”