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5 Defining Moments In The U.S.-Cuba Relationship

Obama shakes hands with Castro during a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in Soweto, South Africa, on Dec. 10, 2013. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro says his brother introduced himself to Obama in English, telling him, "Mr. President, I'm Castro," as the two leaders shook hands. (AP)

1. Obama, Raul Castro Announce Normalization Of Relations

President Obama said Wednesday the U.S. and Cuba will normalize relations, which have been strained since being severed in 1961. He spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday to finalize details of the announcement.

2. A Handshake In South Africa

Tuesday's talk wasn't the first conversation between the two men. They spoke publicly last December at a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Castro's brother, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, said the current Cuban leader introduced himself to Obama in English, telling him, "Mr. President, I'm Castro." The two leaders then shook hands — reportedly only the second time leaders of the two countries had shaken hands over the past half-century. As NPR's Greg Myre noted, the handshake caused a "diplomatic stir."

3. The Elian Gonzalez Saga

One of the biggest stories in U.S.-Cuba relations prior to that handshake was Elian Gonzalez. The 6-year-old Cuban boy was rescued off the coast of Florida where his mother and others had died trying to reach the U.S. His U.S.-based relatives tried to keep him in the country, but his father in Cuba wanted him back. The legal battle went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected an appeal from Elian's Miami relatives. Government officials seized the boy on April 22, 2000, and he was returned to Cuba where he still lives.

4. The Mariel Boatlift

On April 20, 1980, Fidel Castro declared the port of Mariel open, allowing any Cuban who wished to leave to go to the U.S. More than 100,000 did. But some of them were spies; others were newly released from Cuba's prisons and mental institutions. The Mariel boatlift, as it came to be known, led the U.S. to tighten its restrictions on Cuba.

5. Neighbors

Fidel Castro and his communist rebels, who included his brother Raul, ousted Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. For nearly two years after that, the U.S. and Cuba maintained relations. Fidel Castro visited the U.S. – and even met with then Vice President Richard Nixon. For more than 50 years, the prospect of another Castro visit to Washington seemed unthinkable. Today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he "wouldn't rule out a visit from President [Raul] Castro."

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