Cuban President Raul Castro adjusts his glasses during his meeting with US President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. The leaders of the United States and Cuba held their first formal meeting in more than half a century on Saturday, clearing the way for a normalization of relations that had seemed unthinkable to both Cubans and Americans for generations. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
PANAMA CITY – Cuban President Raul Castro recounted the history of U.S. "imperialist aggression" in Latin America in an address here Saturday at the 7th Summit of the Americas, although he absolved U.S. head of state Barack Obama of responsibility for those past actions.
Castro, whose country was invited to the gathering for the first time this year, received an ovation when he began his speech by saying the "time had come for him to speak here" on Communist-ruled Cuba's behalf.
He referred to the United States' "wars, conquests and interventions" in the region, saying through an interpreter that the country has been a "hegemonic force that plundered territories throughout the Americas."
Castro recalled that the U.S. Congress authorized military intervention in Cuba in the late 19th century and that led to the establishment of a military base in Guantanamo that still "occupies our territory."
In the 20th century, the United States carried out a series of "interventions to overthrow democratic governments" in Latin America, where "dictators were installed in 20 countries, 12 of them simultaneously."
"In South America alone, hundreds of thousands of people were killed," Castro said, adding that the most "brutal" episode was the 1973 U.S.-backed coup that toppled Chilean President Salvador Allende's democratically elected socialist government.
But after finishing his review of Latin American history, Castro issued an apology to his U.S. counterpart.
"The passion comes out of my pores when the revolution is involved, but I want to apologize to President Obama because he doesn't have anything to do with all of that," Castro said, eliciting another round of applause.
"All (of the previous U.S. presidents) are indebted to us, but not President Obama," who is an "honest man ... with a manner about him that speaks to his humble origins," the Cuban leader said.
Castro also described as a "positive step" Obama's recent statement indicating he will soon make a decision on Cuba's presence on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"They say we're terrorists. And we indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists" under the viewpoint of "imperialism," Castro said, noting that he was referring to Cuba's humanitarian missions in various developing countries.
He also urged the countries of Latin America to support Obama in "his intention to end the embargo" of Cuba.
Last December, Obama and Castro simultaneously announced plans to work to restore full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
Washington severed diplomatic ties with Havana in 1961 and has maintained an economic embargo against the Communist-ruled island since late 1962.
Since December's announcement, senior diplomats from both countries have met several times to discuss the re-opening of embassies and the Obama administration has taken limited steps to ease the economic embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1962.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez came together on Thursday in Panama City for what a U.S. spokesperson described as "an extensive and very constructive discussion."
Immediately prior to Castro's historic address, Obama said in a speech to his regional counterparts that "the United States will not be imprisoned by the past. We're looking to the future."
Although the president said the two countries will continue to have significant differences, he noted that "the fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion."
Castro and Obama are expected to meet later Saturday on the sidelines of the Panama summit, in what will be the first substantive discussion between U.S. and Cuban leaders since 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower met with Fulgencio Batista, the strongman ousted by Fidel Castro three years later.
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