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Cuban President Raul Castro has spoken publicly for the first time against President Donald Trump’s rollback of a thaw between the two countries a month ago.

Raul Castro said “attempts to destroy the revolution” would fail.

President Trump has tightened restrictions on US travel to and business with Cuba.

However, the US embassy in Havana, re-opened by former President Barack Obama, is still operating.


Fidel Castro Death: Donald Trump Calls Cuban Leader “Brutal Dictator”

President Castro was speaking in front of Cuba’s national assembly. It was his first public comment on the policy changes President Trump announced a month ago.

State-run Cuban media quoted President Castro as saying that President Trump was using “old and hostile rhetoric” and had returned to “confrontation that roundly failed over 55 years”.

The Cuban president said: “We reject the manipulation of the topic of human rights against Cuba, which can be proud of much in this area and does not need to receive lessons from the United States nor anyone.”

Barack Obama and Raul Castro Hold Historic Joint News Conference

Donald Trump anchored his policy rollback in human rights concerns raised by political opponents of Cuba’s communist government, many of whom have fled to Miami where the president announced the changes on June 16.

President Castro continued: “Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side, respecting their differences. But no one should expect that for this, one should have to make concessions inherent to one’s sovereignty and independence.”

Raul Castro will step down as president in seven months, but will remain the head of the country’s Communist Party.

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Cuban government has denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back on policy changes towards Cuba.

However, Cuba says it will still co-operate with its larger neighbor.

Speaking earlier in Miami, Florida, President Trump said he was re-imposing certain travel and trade restrictions eased by the Obama administration, condemning a “completely one-sided deal”.

However, President Trump is not reversing key diplomatic and commercial ties.

Cuban state TV said: “The government of Cuba denounces the new measures toughening the embargo.”

However, Cuba also reiterated “its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation”.

Former President Barack Obama attempted to thaw relations by loosening trade and tourism bans.

President Donald Trump says his new policy will tighten rules on travel and on sending funds to Cuba.

Announcing the changes on June 16, President Trump cited human rights concerns, saying doing a deal with the “brutal” Castro government was “terrible” and “misguided”.

Later that night, Cuban state news said: “Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba – whether by pressure or imposition or through more subtle means – is destined to fail.”

However, President Donald Trump is not rowing back on all parts of Barack Obama’s deal.

President Trump will not close the US embassy in Havana, commercial flights from the US will continue, and Americans will still be able to return home with Cuban goods.

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In his final days in office, President Barack Obama has decided to end a longstanding policy that grants residency to Cubans who arrive in the US without visas.

According to the 20-year-old policy, Cuban immigrants who reach US soil to become legal permanent residents after a year.

In exchange, Havana has agreed to start accepting Cubans who are turned away or deported from the United States.

Many Cubans in the US say Washington is rewarding a regime which has failed to address human rights concerns.

However President Barack Obama says he is trying to continue the thawing of relations with Cuba: “With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws.”

Image source Wikimedia

In a statement on state TV, the Cuban government praised the move as “an important step in advancing relations” between the US and Cuba.

It is unclear where relations between the two countries will go now.

Barack Obama’s successor, President-elect Donald Trump, has taken a much tougher stance and could reverse the change.

Until now, the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy has applied solely to Cubans, tens of thousands of whom reached US soil in 2016, including by land.

Thousands of other Cubans are intercepted at sea every year by the US coast guard before they can get a dry foot on land.

Immigrants from other countries who come to the US without a visa could be arrested and deported.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said: “I believe changing this outdated policy – in order to be fair to all and also to prevent people from abusing the system – is the right thing to do.”

However, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, a Cuban exile, blasted President Obama for giving Raul Castro a parting gift: “This is just a going-away present from Obama to Raul Castro.”

Tomas Regalado does not believe ending the policy will slow the flow of Cubans coming to the US.

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The ashes of late Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro have been laid to rest in the city of Santiago, nine days after his death at the age of 90.

Crowds lined the streets to see the cortege heading to the Santa Ifigenia cemetery for a private ceremony.

On December 3, Fidel Castro’s brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, promised “to defend the fatherland and socialism”.

In a family ceremony, Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred next to those of the 19th Century Cuban independence hero, Jose Marti.

The city of Santiago is known as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution.fidel-castro-funeral

The funeral brings an end to nine days of national mourning across Cuba.

Fidel Castro’s remains arrived in December 3 in Santiago after a four-day journey from the capital, Havana.

He was part of the small group of revolutionaries who launched an attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago on July 26, 1953.

The attacked failed, but it was considered the first act of the revolution that would depose the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.

Opinion on Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century, remains divided.

Raul Castro took over when his brother’s health deteriorated in 2006.

The Cuban president has announced that his government will ban naming any monuments or roads after Fidel Castro, at the request of the late leader who “strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of personality”.

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The final tributes to late Cuban leader Fidel Castro have been led by his brother, President Raul Castro, at a ceremony in the city of Santiago.

Tens of thousands of Cubans attended the event, as well as world leaders.

The Cuban president vowed to honor the socialist principles and goals of the revolution led by Fidel Castro, who died on November 25 at the age of 90.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

Raul Castro also announced that Cuba would ban naming any monuments or roads after Fidel Castro, at the request of the late leader.

“The leader of the revolution strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of personality,” said Raul Castro.

No statues or busts of Fidel Castro will be erected in Cuba, he said.

The urn with his ashes will be interred on December 4 in Santiago, known as the birthplace as the Cuban Revolution.

It arrived on December 3 in Santiago, after a four-day journey from the capital, Havana.

Large crowds shouting “Long live Fidel!” and “I am Fidel!” greeted his funeral cortege through the streets of Santiago.

The leaders of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia have attended the ceremony.

Fidel Castro was part of the small group of revolutionaries who launched an attack on the barracks on July 26, 1953.

The attacked failed, but it was considered the first act of the revolution that would depose the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.

Opinion on Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century, remains divided.

Supporters say Fidel Castro returned Cuba to the people and praise him for some of his social programs, such as public health and education.

However, critics call him a dictator, who led a government that did not tolerate opposition and dissent.

Raul Castro took over when his brother’s health deteriorated in 2006.

Fidel Castro’s ashes will be placed in the Ifigenia Cemetery, where Cuban independence hero Jose Marti is buried.

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The late Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has been honored with a mass rally in Havana’s Revolution Square.

The gathering began with the national anthem and ended with a tribute from Fidel Castro’s brother, President Raul Castro.

The rallywas attended by a number of world leaders – but some countries sent lower-level officials.

Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959, died on November 25 at the age of 90. His ashes will be taken to the eastern city of Santiago on November 30.

Opinion on Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century, remains divided.fidel-castro-funeral

Supporters say Fidel Castro returned Cuba to the people and praise him for some of his social programs, such as public health and education.

However, critics call him a dictator, who led a government that did not tolerate opposition and dissent.

This division led to some countries, such as the US, sending lower-ranking emissaries. However, allies including left-wing Latin American leaders were among those attending the ceremony in Revolution Square, where Cubans once gathered to listen to Fidel Castro’s fiery speeches.

On November 29, the crowd chanted “long live the revolution!” and “Fidel! Fidel!” as the rally got under way.

President Raul Castro closed the rally, referring to his brother as the leader of a revolution “for the humble, and by the humble”.

Greece’s left-wing PM Alexis Tsipras was among those who addressed the crowd. The presidents of Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Panama, South Africa and Zimbabwe also attended.

In his speech, South African President Jacob Zuma praised Cuba’s record on health care and education and its support for African countries.

On November 29, the left-wing presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela, Evo Morales and Nicolas Maduro, were among those who signed a book of condolences at the Jose Marti memorial where a photograph flanked by an honor guard has been on display since November 28.

Another admirer of Fidel Castro, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, was joining the two presidents at the commemoration.

However, many Western leaders are not attending the event in person.

The White House announced that its nominee for the post of ambassador to Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes would attend the commemorative event but that it was not sending an “official delegation” to Cuba.

Ben Rhodes was one of the US officials who negotiated the thaw between the United States and the Cuban government announced in December 2014.

On November 28, President-elect Donald Trump threatened to end the detente if Cuba did not offer a “better deal”.

On November 30, Fidel Castro’s ashes will be taken on a journey to Santiago, which is regarded as the Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

Fidel Castro’s ashes will be placed on December 4 in the Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago, where Cuban independence hero Jose Marti is buried.

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Cuba has declared nine days of national mourning following the death of former President and leader of communist revolution Fidel Castro on November 25.

Cubans will be given a chance to bid farewell to Fidel Castro in a mass gathering to be held in Revolution Square in Havana on November 29, Cuba’s Council of State has announced.

Fidel Castro’s ashes will then be taken along the “Caravan of Freedom”, the path he and his guerrilla fighters took during the Cuban Revolution.

His ashes will be laid to rest on December 4. A period of official mourning has been declared until that day.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

During the official mourning period, radio and television will broadcast “informative, patriotic and historic” programs, Cuba’s Council of State announced.

Flags will fly at half mast and there will be no public events apart from those related to Fidel Castro’s death.

His ashes will be laid to rest in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in the south-eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

A grandiose cemetery, Santa Ifigenia was built in 1868 for the victims of the War of Independence.

It is the resting place of Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.

Fidel Castro died on November 25 at the age of 90.His death was announced last night by his brother, President Raul Castro.

 

Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, has announced in an unexpected late night broadcast on state TV.

Raul Castro said: “The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening.”

Fidel Castro was Cuba’s former president and leader of the Communist revolution.

He ruled the country as one-party state for almost 50 years before Raul Castro took over in 2008.

Rau Castro’s supporters said he had given Cuba back to the people. But he was also accused of suppressing opposition.

Ashen and grave, the president told the nation that Fidel Castro had died and would be cremated on November 26.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

There would now be several days of national mourning in Cuba.

Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was Washington’s bête noire.

An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, Fidel Castro and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.

Within two years of taking power, Fidel Castro declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied Cuba firmly to the Soviet Union.

Yet, despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on Cuba, Fidel Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, Fidel Castro outlasted ten US presidents and defied scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.

In April 2016, Fidel Castro gave a rare speech on the final day of Cuba’s Communist Party congress.

He acknowledged his advanced age but said Cuban communist concepts were still valid and the Cuban people “will be victorious”.

“I’ll soon be 90,” he said, adding that this was “something I’d never imagined”.

“Soon I’ll be like all the others, to all our turn must come,” Fidel Castro said.

Fidel Castro temporarily handed over the power to his brother in 2006 as he was recovering from an acute intestinal ailment.

Raul Castro officially became Cuba’s president in 2008.

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Cuba’s ex President Fidel Castro has made a rare public appearance at an event to mark his 90th birthday on Saturday, August 13.

Fidel Castro appeared at a gala in Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre with his brother, President Raul Castro, and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

In his first public appearance since April, Fidel Castro appeared frail and remained seated during the event.

Fidel Castro, who stood down in 2008, had earlier attacked President Barack Obama in a newspaper column.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

The former Cuban leader criticized President Obama for not apologizing to the people of Hiroshima for the nuclear bomb dropped there by the US in World War Two.

Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May.

Fidel Castro wrote: “He lacked the words to ask for forgiveness for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Ties between the United States and Cuba have been restored under Raul Castro’s presidency, but after a visit by Barack Obama to Havana in March, Fidel Castro wrote that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything”.

The gala in Havana focused on key moments of Fidel Castro’s life, including the CIA-backed invasion attempt in the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

A large street party was also held in Havana on August 12, and fireworks exploded when the clock hit midnight.

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Cuba will not return to the Organization of American States (OAS), says President Raul Castro in a show of solidarity with Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo has called for sanctions against Venezuela.

At a summit of Caribbean countries in Havana, President Raul Castro called the OAS “an instrument of imperialist domination”.

Meanwhile, former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has met jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

It was Leopoldo Lopez’s first visit from anyone other than family members or lawyers since the 45-year-old was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year after being found guilty of inciting violence.Raul Castro Cuba US ties

Leopoldo Lopez’s supporters insist he is innocent and say he was jailed on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges.

The meeting at Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas lasted about 90 minutes, according to Adriana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is trying to negotiate between the opposition and the government in Venezuela’s worsening political crisis.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 but following a recent thaw in relations with the US it was suggested that the island might return.

However, Raul Castro appeared to rule out the possibility, offering “our most firm solidarity to our brothers the Venezuelan people, to the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro”.

President Nicolas Maduro is locked in a dispute with the OAS over opposition demands in Venezuela for a recall referendum.

Luis Almargo said earlier this week that “the institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch”.

He has called an emergency meeting of the OAS at which member states will decide whether to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS.

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President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro have held a historic joint news conference in Havana, discussing human rights and lifting the trade embargo.

Both presidents agreed to work together, despite wrangling over human rights.

Raul Castro said more needed to be done to lift the US embargo on trade with Cuba and that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp must close.

Barack Obama, the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since 1959, said the trade embargo would be fully lifted.

Raul Castro took questions from reporters – a rarity for him.Barack Obama and Raul Castro news conference Havana

“Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation… The future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans not by anybody else,” Barack Obama said.

Asked about political prisoners in Cuba, Raul Castro denied it, telling journalists to “give him a list” and then they would be released “tonight”.

The Cuban president also defended his country’s record on human rights and pointed to problems in the US.

“We defend human rights, in our view civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, inter-dependent and universal,” Raul Castro said.

Raul Castro is not usually subject to any aggressive questioning from reporters and called the prisoners question “not polite”, later ending the news conference by saying: “I think this is enough.”

“Actually we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to healthcare, education, social security, food provision and development,” he said.

Barack Obama could not say exactly when the trade embargo would be lifted, but recognized it was necessary.

“The reason is what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people,” he said.

His administration has done what it can on lifting trade restrictions, Barack Obama said, but further action will require Congress which is “not as productive in an election year”.

Barack Obama also said further easing of the trade embargo will depend on actions Cuba takes on human rights.

He said it is not just Cuba that the US has “deep disagreements” about human rights with – it also has disagreements with China and Vietnam.

“I believe if I engage frankly, clearly, stating our beliefs but I can’t force change on any country – it ultimately has to come from within – that is a more useful strategy,” he said.

“I have faith in people.”

Reporters described the press conference as “tense” and “remarkable”.

Before the speech, it was announced that Google was opening an online technology center for free Internet access at much higher speeds than what is available in Cuba now.

Google hopes the center will be part of a larger effort to improve Internet access in Cuba.

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have arrived in Cuba for a historic visit to the island and talks with President Raul Castro.

Barack Obama is the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution, which heralded decades of hostility.

“Looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people,” he tweeted on arrival.

President Barack Obama will meet Cuban President Raul Castro, but not retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, and the pair will discuss trade and political reform.

Barack Obama emerged smiling from Air Force One with First Lady Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia.

Holding umbrellas, the party walked in light drizzle along a red carpet to be greeted by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Barack Obama’s visit is the highpoint of a recent easing of ties, which included the opening of embassies last year.

Only hours before his arrival, protesters calling for the release of political prisoners were arrested in the capital, Havana.

Police took away dozens of demonstrators from the Ladies in White group, formed of political prisoners’ wives, from outside a church where they attempt to hold weekly protests.

Correspondents say the visit – the first by a sitting US president for 88 years – marks a huge turnaround in US-Cuban relations.

Barack Obama’s visit represents the opening of a new chapter in the affairs of the two nations.

Raul Castro and Barack Obama will sit together at a state dinner, there will be a joint news conference and they will discuss trade.

The White House has made it clear President Barack Obama will meet political dissidents, whether the Cuban authorities like it or not. That is expected to include members of the Ladies in White group.

However, this visit does not mark a complete normalization in US- Cuban relations.

The 54-year-old US economic embargo of Cuba is still in place and can only be lifted by a vote in Congress. Meanwhile, Cuba still complains about the occupation of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

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Barack Obama and Raul Castro met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 29.

It was the second time Barack Obama and the Cuban president met in person this year after decades of estrangement between the two countries.

They shook hands before beginning private talks.

On September 28, Raul Castro called for an end to US economic sanctions on Cuba.

President Barack Obama had earlier expressed confidence that Congress would lift the embargo.Raul Castro and Barack Obama in New York

Raul Castro told the UN that normal relations with the United States would only be possible if the US abolished its trade embargo.

The embargo has been in place since 1960 and remains a contentious issue in relations between Cuba and the US.

In his speech to the UN, President Barack Obama said he was confident Congress would “inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore”.

On October 27 the UNGA is again scheduled to discuss a resolution condemning the embargo and calling for its abolition.

It is the 24th time the UNGA will vote on the issue, which generally is only opposed by the United States and Israel.

Speculation is already rife about how the US will vote this year after its own president dismissed the embargo as counterproductive and behind the times.

The resolutions are unenforceable, but a US abstention on a resolution critical of US behavior would be unprecedented.

The Republican-controlled US Congress has so far refused to lift the embargo.

Cuban-American Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio warned that an abstention would be “putting international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States”.

US officials said Raul Castro’s presence at the UN, the first time the Cuban leader spoke there, was a signal “that we’re in a new era”.

In his speech, Raul Castro said the normalization of relations would be “a long and complex process”.

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President Raul Castro has called for the US to lift the trade embargo on Cuba in order to normalize the relations between the two countries.

He told the UN that was also necessary for the US to return the military base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay and end anti-communist broadcasts to the island.

President Barack Obama also called for the trade embargo to be lifted.

He said that he was confident that the US Congress would do so soon.

The two leaders are expected to meet on September 29 in New York.Raul Castro UN General Assembly 2015

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on September 28, President Barack Obama said he thought the Republican-held Congress would inevitably lift “an embargo that should not be in place anymore” despite its reservations over the administration’s support for it.

He said that while the Cuba policy of the US had “failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people”, human rights remained a concern in relations with Havana.

Barack Obama was applauded by delegates in the 193-nation UN General Assembly.

The embargo has been in place since 1960 and remains a contentious issue in relations between Cuba and the US.

President Raul Castro for his part said that now that diplomatic ties were back in place, the overall normalization of relations “will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba”.

It was Raul Castro’s first address to the UN since succeeding his brother Fidel in 2006. Like Barack Obama, he received sustained applause.

The White House announced on September 27 that President Barack Obama would hold talks with his Cuban counterpart on September 29 on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

It will be their second meeting following on from their first historic get-together in Panama in April.

The UN General Assembly is set to discuss a new draft resolution criticizing the US embargo at a meeting next month.

The assembly has voted every year since 1982 in support of a resolution calling on the US to end the embargo.

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Tens of thousands of people have attended a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Cuban capital Havana on his first visit to the Communist-ruled island.

Cuba’s President Raul Castro, not a practicing Catholic, attended the event Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.

Later Pope Francis also met the president’s brother and predecessor, Fidel Castro.

Pope Francis, who is at the start of his Cuba and US trip, has been credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic ties between both countries.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

After his arrival on September 19, the pontiff hailed improving ties between Cuba and the US as “an example of reconciliation for the whole world”.

Pope Francis also urged both Cuba and the US to “persevere on the path” of detente.

Security services were seen arresting at least three people who were shouting and attempting to distribute flyers at the edge of Revolution Square as the Mass got under way.

On his way to the service Pope Francis stopped to greet some of the thousands who had come out to see him.

During his homily the Pope said that “Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable”.

After the Mass, Pope Francis met Fidel Castro at his house in Havana for about 30 minutes.

According to the Vatican, Pope Francis and Fidel Castro exchanged books as gifts.

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In his first speech after his arrival in Cuba, Pope Francis has called for the Church in the communist island to have “the freedom and the means” to pursue its mission.

Pope Francis also hailed improving ties between the US and Cuba as “an example of reconciliation for the whole world”.

The pontiff was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro after landing in the capital, Havana.

He is due to celebrate Mass on September 20 in Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Pope Francis will spend four days in Cuba before flying to the US.

Following his arrival on Cuba on September 19, thousands lined the route of the Pope’s motorcade to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba.

Pope Francis – the first pontiff to hail from Latin America – is credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.

President Raul Castro has thanked Pope Francis for his contribution.

Speaking at the airport alongside Raul Castro, Pope Francis urged further support for Cuba’s Catholics “so that the Church can continue to support and encourage the Cuban people in its hopes and concerns, with the freedom, the means and the space needed to bring the proclamation of the kingdom to the existential peripheries of society”.

The Pope also called on Cuba and the US to “persevere on the path” of detente.

On September 17, the Vatican said it hoped the Pope’s visit would help bring an end to the 53-year-old US embargo and lead to more freedom and human rights in Cuba.

The following day, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations.

Pope Francis’s trip will later take him to the US, which he will also be visiting for the first time since his election to the papacy.

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Pope Francis has arrived in Havana, on his first visit to Cuba.

The pontiff will spend four days in Cuba before flying to the US.

The first pope to hail from Latin America, Pope Francis is credited with helping the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Cuban President Raul Castro has thanked the Pope for his contribution. Cities on Pope Francis’ itinerary have been renovated in preparation for the visit.

On September 17, the Vatican said it hoped it would help bring to an end the 53-year-old US embargo and lead to more freedom and human rights on the island.

On September 18, the US announced eased restrictions on business and travel with Cuba, the latest move by President Barack Obama to improve relations.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner also arrived in Cuba on September 19 and will attend a Mass to be celebrated by Pope Francis on Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.

Workers have been building a huge altar and stands for the congregation and choir on the square.

Ahead of Pope Francis’s visit, streets have been newly paved in Havana, and the cathedral has been renovated.

The airport terminal has also been renovated.

In the city of Holguin where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass on September 21, the cathedral has been repaired and repainted.

Officials say nearly 1,000 Cuban and foreign journalists are expected to cover the visit.

Pope Francis’s trip will also take him to the US for the first time as Pope.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Cuba, saying: “May Cuba… open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.”

Pope Benedict XVI also visited Cuba in 2012.

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The US flag has been raised over the reopened embassy in Cuba after more than 54 years since it was closed.

The reopening of the US embassy in Havana is a symbolic step signaling the warming of ties between both countries.

John Kerry, who presided over the ceremony in Havana, is the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.

The US flag was presented by the same US marines who brought it down in 1961.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington in July.

However, issues remain, with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasting the US for not lifting its trade embargo.

In an open letter on August 13, Fidel Castro said the US owed Cuba millions of dollars because of its 53-year-long embargo. The letter makes no mention of today’s reopening of the US embassy.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

John Kerry described the hoisting of the flag as a “historic moment” speaking during the ceremony on August 14.

He also warned that the US would not stop pressing for political change in Cuba.

“The people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,” John Kerry told a crowd of hundreds gathered outside the embassy building.

In the past, John Kerry conceded, US policies have not led to democracy.

“Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape,” he added.

Three retired marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on January 4, 1961, handed it over to marines to raise it once again in Havana as the American national anthem played.

Cuban leader Raul Castro and President Barack Obama agreed to restore ties in December 2014.

While trade and travel restrictions have been relaxed, the Republican-led US Congress has not lifted the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

It says relations will be fully restored only once it is lifted.

Fidel Castro’s open letter was published in state newspaper Granma to mark his 89th birthday.

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Fidel Castro has published an open letter to Cubans in which he makes no mention of the historic reopening of the US embassy in Havana.

The former Cuban leader instead criticizes American foreign and economic policies since World War Two and accuses the US of owing Cuba millions of dollars.

The letter was published to mark Fidel Castro’s 89th birthday.

The US embassy will be reopened in Havana on August 14, with Secretary of State John Kerry attending.

Fidel Castro said the US owed Cuba money because of the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

The letter says relations will only be fully restored once it is lifted.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

Three marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on January 4, 1961, will raise it again during Friday’s ceremony in Havana.

They are now retired and in their late 70s.

“I’m gonna love seeing that flag go back up,” said former marine Jim Tracy, 78, on a State Department video.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington last month.

In his birthday letter published in state newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro says Cuba is committed to “good will and peace in our hemisphere” but adds: “We will never stop fighting for the peace and welfare of all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin and which country they come from.”

Fidel Castro led his country from the Cuban Revolution, in 1959, until 2006, when he stood down because of undisclosed health problems.

He passed on power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, who embarked on a number of economic reforms.

After Raul Castro and President Barack Obama announced in December that Cuba and the US had agreed to restore diplomatic relations, it took Fidel Castro more than a month to express lukewarm approval for the historic reconciliation.

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Fidel Castro has made a rare public appearance at a cheese meeting in Havana.

State television showed images of the former Cuban leader at a meeting with cheese experts near the capital, Havana.

Fidel Castro, 88, handed power to his younger brother Raul in 2006 after struggling to recover from illness.

His appearance comes days after Cuba and the US announced they were reopening embassies in each other’s capitals on July 20.Fidel Castro cheese meeting Havana

Fidel Castro is rarely seen in public, and secrecy about his health means his public appearances are scrutinized by the media.

The historic thaw between Cuba and the US was announced on December 17, in joint media conferences by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

There was no immediate comment from Fidel Castro, and analysts said the rapprochement would not have happened if he was still in power.

Just over a month later, Fidel Castro broke his silence in a letter published on the Cuban Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

“I don’t trust the policy of the United States… but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” the Cuban leader wrote.

Relations had been frozen since the early 1960s when the US broke links and imposed a trade embargo on Cuba.

The United States and Cuba are to announce the opening of embassies in each other’s capitals, a senior US official has said.

The embassies opening is a major step in re-establishing diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba which were severed in 1961.

Relations had been frozen since the early 1960s when the US broke links and imposed a trade embargo with Cuba.

The US and Cuba agreed to normalize relations at the end of 2014.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro held historic talks in April 2015.

Since 1977, the US and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called “interests sections” in each other’s capitals under the legal protection of Switzerland. However, they do not enjoy the same status as full embassies.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

US officials said President Barack Obama would make a formal announcement from the White House on July 1.

It is still not clear exactly what the date will be for opening the embassies, but it is likely to be in mid-July.

The US State Department must give Congress two weeks’ warning before the embassy can open.

It is the latest major milestone in a thawing process between the two countries’ relations, which started with secret negotiations and was announced last December.

In April, Barack Obama and Raul Castro met for the first formal talks between the two countries’ leaders in more than half a century.

A month later, the US removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Plans to resume ferry and air services between the US and Cuba were also announced.

Despite the new transport links, a Cuba travel ban is still in place for US citizens.

Cuba is also still subject to a US arms embargo which has been in place since 1962, though President Barack Obama has urged Congress to lift it.

The US broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro and his brother Raul led a revolution toppling US-backed President Fulgencio Batista. The Castro brothers established a revolutionary socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union.

In December 2014, Barack Obama and Raul Castro made a surprise announcement saying they would seek to re-establish diplomatic ties, ending more than 50 years of ill-will.

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Francois Hollande has arrived in Havana to meet former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on a historic trip to the Communist island.

The French president is using the one-day trip to Cuba to build business and diplomatic relations five months after a detente between Havana and Washington.

Fidel Castro and Francois Hollande’s meeting was due at 15:00 local time on May 11, away from TV cameras, said the Elysee Palace.

Francois Hollande is the first French president to visit Cuba since 1898.

Speaking at the University of Havana, Francois Hollande said France would do its utmost to ensure that “the measures which have so badly harmed Cuba’s development can finally be repealed”.Francois Hollande in Cuba

Francois Hollande was referring to the US trade embargo with Cuba, which remains in place, although relations between the US and Cuba have improved in recent months.

He was due to meet his current Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro’s brother and successor Raul, later on Monday evening.

The visit is the first trip by a Western head of state to the Communist island since the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the US was announced in December 2014.

Francois Hollande announced plans to double the number of scholarships to enable Cuban students to continue their studies in France, as part of attempts to increase academic and scientific co-operation between the two nations.

Earlier on Monday, Francois Hollande bestowed France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, on the head of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The Cuban Catholic Church has acted as a mediator between dissidents and the Communist government.

Unlike some other European countries, France has long maintained reasonably good relations with Cuba and wants to benefit from the new economic openness.

After landing at Havana airport, Francois Hollande said the visit was a moment of “great emotion”.

Before arriving, Francois Hollande told reporters that France sought to “be the first among European nations, and the first among Western nations, to be able to say to the Cubans that we will be at their side if they decide themselves to take needed steps toward opening up”.

A number of high-ranking US and European politicians have visited Cuba since December 17, when the US and Cuba announced they would move towards re-establishing diplomatic ties.

They include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini and top diplomats from Japan and Russia.

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Cuban President Raul Castro will meet Pope Francis in a private audience at the Vatican.

The Argentine Pope played a key role in a recent diplomatic rapprochement between the US and Cuba.

Raul Castro, who is stopping off as he returns from Russia’s WW2 Victory Day parade, wishes to thank Pope Francis for his help, Vatican radio says.

The Roman Catholic Church has maintained relations with Cuba since the 1959 revolution.Raul Castro and Pope Francis meeting

Pope Francis will visit Cuba on his way to the US in September.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to receive a Cuban leader when Fidel Castro travelled to the Vatican.

Raul Castro, the brother of Fidel, was last in Rome in 1997 when he was defense minister. At the time he was preparing the historic visit of John Paul II to Havana the following year.

The Catholic Church has organized a series of secret diplomatic meetings to broker the US-Cuban rapprochement.

The talks directly involved Pope Francis. The US had imposed a trade embargo soon after Cuba’s revolution, which it began to lift at the end of 2014.

Pope Francis, 78, will be the third pontiff to travel to Cuba, following visits there by John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

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Cuba has welcomed US decision to remove it from the state department’s terror list, saying it should never have been on the list in the first place.

The move comes amid a normalization of ties between the US and Cuba.

Cuba’s presence on the list alongside Syria, Iran and Sudan was a sticking point for Cuba during talks to reopen embassies.

A US trade embargo against Cuba remains and can only be ended by Congress.

Barack Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama last week, four months after he announced a historic thaw in ties with the communist island nation.

He said on April 14 that the government of Cuba had “not provided any support for international terrorism” over the past six months.

Barack Obama added that it had “provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future”.Barack Obama Raul Castro Cuban thaw

A statement from Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat responsible for dealing with the US, said: “The Cuban government recognized the fair decision made by the president of the United States to eliminate Cuba from a list that it never should have been included on, especially considering our country has been the victim of hundreds of acts of terrorism that have cost 3,478 lives and maimed 2,099 citizens.”

In Havana, ordinary Cubans welcomed the move.

Cuba was first placed on the state department list in 1982, for what the US called efforts “to promote armed revolution by organizations that used terrorism”.

The US believes Cuba had long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group, according to its 2013 Report on Terrorism.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the US still had differences with Cuban policies and actions, but they were not “relevant” to the terror list.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the US presidency, condemned the White House decision, saying Cuba remained a state sponsor of terrorism.

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President Barack Obama has told Latin American leaders that the days when the United States could freely interfere in regional affairs are past.

Barack Obama was speaking just before the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

The US president and Cuban leader Raul Castro shook hands as the opening ceremony began, their first encounter since a December detente.

Barack Obama and Raul Castro’s historic formal talks due on April 11 could be overshadowed by tensions between Venezuela and the US.Barack Obama handshake Raul Castro

The US president told a forum of civil society leaders in Panama City that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”.

At past Summits of the Americas, which bring together the leaders of North, Central and South America, the US has come in for criticism for its embargo against Cuba and its objection to having Cuba participate in the gatherings.

This seventh summit is the first which Cuba will attend and much of the attention will be focused on the body language between the former foes.

Barack Obama’s speech before the summit came a day after the State Department recommended that Cuba be removed from the US lists of countries which sponsor terrorism.