Obama And Raul Castro Met, And That's A Big Deal

Remember all that talk about the U.S. and Cuba starting to normalize relations late last year? It's possible it whizzed past you without noticing, given the hectic holiday schedules and everything — Obama announced the major policy shift back on Dec. 17, in one of his last major actions before departing for his Christmas vacation. Now, however, we're finally starting to see some groundbreaking progress. Like at the Summit Of The Americas in Panama on Saturday, where President Obama's meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro made history.

It's been a long time coming — unless, of course, you're opposed wholesale to the reforms and support the Cuban embargo, as a longstanding and impassioned minority do. The last time an American and Cuban leader have directly engaged in this way was back in the 1950s, prior to diplomatic relations between the two countries being severed.

But we're now in new, somewhat uncertain times in our national posture towards Cuba. There are obvious, understandable criticisms to be made about developing relations with the Cuban government, which has an appalling history on human rights — though that's true of many ostensible U.S. allies. But at the same time, the possibility that improved relations might further improved conditions can't be overlooked, and that' clearly how Obama feels about it — in discussing the policy shift at his end-of-year presser, he described it like this.

What I know deep in my bones is that if you've done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed you should try something different if you want a different outcome. And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome.

This attitude — thinking about changing something up when it hasn't worked — is pretty clearly at the core of Obama's rhetoric about this. And it's frankly not hard to see why, after decades of intractability between the two states, that it'd be a relatively easy pitch to make to the American public. As reported by The New York Times, both Castro and Obama spoke on the slow process of thawing American-Cuban relations, with Obama specifically citing the need to "try something new."

It was time for us to try something new. We are now in a position to move on a path toward the future ... Over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.

That's not to suggest everything will be smooth sailing, however. According to the Times, in spite of warming relations with the Obama administration, Castro delivered a fiery condemnation of past American policies towards Cuba in his speech before the summit, citing the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the ongoing establishment of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. But promisingly, he also referred to Obama himself as "an honest man," which is a hell of a lot more promising that you could've expected in years gone by. It'll be interesting to see where the diplomatic relationship goes from here, but suffice to say yet another major barrier has fallen.

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