Obama Embraces Cuban Relations
WASHINGTON (AP) - The plans by President Barack Obama to move toward normalized relations with Cuba are sweeping.
Obama is looking to expand economic ties with Cuba, open an embassy in Havana, and review that country's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. is also easing restrictions on travel to Cuba -- but tourist travel will still be banned.
Obama says the U.S. intends to create more opportunities for Americans and Cubans to work together.
He says the U.S. is ending an outdated approach to Cuba that has failed to advance U.S. interests.
The developments follow more than a year of secret discussions between the U.S. and Cuban officials. The talks happened in Canada and the Vatican and included personal involvement by Pope Francis. American subcontractor Alan Gross (photo), who spent five years in a Cuban prison, is thanking President Barack Obama and supporters for working to free him. Gross, who lost more than 100 pounds and developed health problems, says he never grew angry at the Cuban people. (photo AP)
Pope Had Major Role In Talks
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis is praising what he calls "small steps" of diplomacy and peacemaking between the U.S. and Cuba. In his first public comments about the breakthrough, Francis told new ambassadors today that diplomacy is a "noble job." Francis played a crucial role in bringing the two sides together, writing letters to Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro this past summer, inviting them to find humanitarian solutions to their differences and offering the Vatican as a facilitator in negotiations.
Reaction In Havanna
HAVANA (AP) - One man in the Cuban capital of Havana says it's "a wish come true."
Carlos Gonzalez is among the Cubans celebrating the news that his country and the United States are re-establishing diplomatic relations. Gonzalez, an I-T specialist, says it will "open the road to a better future for the two countries."
One 72-year-old retiree called it "a victory for Cuba," saying it was achieved "without conceding basic principles."
In Cuba, bells pealed and schoolchildren interrupted lessons to mark the historic news. Havana residents gathered around television sets in homes, schools and businesses to hear the historic national broadcast in which President Raul Castro announced that Cuba was restoring relations with the United States.
Castro said, "We should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner in spite of our differences."
In his address, he called on Washington to end its embargo against Cuba, saying it had caused "enormous human and economic damage."
Putin Holds Out Hope For Ties With West
MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Western sanctions have been an important factor in the current economic crisis, but not the only one.
Putin said Thursday the influence of Western sanctions acounts roughly for 25 to 30 percent of factors behind the Russian crisis. He accused the West of trying to infringe on Russia's sovereignty, adding that the Ukrainian crisis was just a pretext for Western action. He said that the reason for Western action wasn't Crimea, it was because of efforts to "defend our independence and the right for existence."
Despite his tough rhetoric, Putin held out hope for normalizing ties with the West, saying that Russia still hopes to expand its gas supplies to southern Europe using a prospective gas hub on Turkey's border with Greece.
Shortcomings In Child Abuse Prevention
BUTTE, Montana (AP) - An Associated Press investigation has found that at least 786 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span while in plain view of child protection officials.
The children lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services.
The AP canvassed the 50 states, District of Columbia and the military.
The true number of such fatalities where a prior open case existed is undoubtedly higher than the 786.
Seven states reported 230 open-case maltreatment deaths that AP did not include. Those states failed to make a distinction between case files opened only due to the incident that ultimately led to a child's death and case files that already existed at the time the child was fatally injured.