At the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2001, Fidel Castro and U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke briefly at a group photo session and shook hands. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan commented afterwards, “For a U.S. president and a Cuban president to shake hands for the first time in over 40 years—I think it is a major symbolic achievement". While Castro said it was a gesture of “dignity and courtesy,” the White House denied the encounter was of any significance. In November 2001, US companies began selling food to the country for the first time since Washington imposed the trade embargo after the revolution. In 2002, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter became the first former or sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928.
Relations deteriorated again following the election of George W. Bush. During his campaign Bush appealed for the support of Cuban-Americans by emphasizing his opposition to the government of Fidel Castro and supporting tighter embargo restrictions Cuban Americans, who generally vote Republican, expected effective policies and greater participation in the formation of policies regarding Cuba-US relations. Approximately three months after his inauguration, the Bush administration began expanding travel restrictions. The United States Department of the Treasury issued greater efforts to deter American citizens from illegally traveling to the island. In a 2004 meeting with members of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, President Bush stated, “We're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom; we are working for the day of freedom in Cuba.”. The President reaffirmed his commitment to Cuban-Americans just in time for his 2004 reelection with promises to “work” rather than wait for freedom in Cuba. Following his 2005 re-election George W. Bush declared Cuba to be one of the few "outposts of tyranny" remaining in the world. Tensions heightened as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John R. Bolton, accused Cuba of maintaining a biological weapons program. Many in the US, including ex-president Carter, expressed doubts about the claim. Later, Bolton was criticized for pressuring subordinates who questioned the quality of the intelligence John Bolton had used as the basis for the assertion. Bolton identified the Castro government as part of America's "axis of evil," highlighting the fact that the Cuban leader visited several US foes, including Libya, Iran and Syria. Cuba was also identified as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the United States Department of State. The Cuban government denies the claim, and in turn has accused the U.S. of engaging in state sponsored terrorism against Cuba.
In January 2006, United States Interests Section in Havana began displaying messages on a scrolling "electronic billboard" in the windows of their top floor. Following a protest march organized by the Cuban government, the government erected a large number of poles, carrying black flags with single white stars, obscuring the messages.
On September 8, 2006, it was revealed that at least ten South Florida journalists received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters that support an opening of Cuban society and multi-party elections in Cuba. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years. Those who were paid the most were veteran reporters and a freelance contributor for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language newspaper published by the corporate parent of The Miami Herald. The Cuban government has long contended that some South Florida Spanish-language journalists were on the federal payroll.
On September 12, 2006, the United States announced that it had created five inter-agency working groups to monitor Cuba. The groups were set up after the July 31 announcement that the ailing Cuban leader had temporarily ceded power to a collective leadership headed by his brother Raúl. U.S. officials say three of the newly created groups are headed by the State Department: diplomatic actions; strategic communications and democratic promotion. Another that coordinated humanitarian aid to Cuba is run by the Commerce Department, and a fifth, on migration issues, is run jointly by the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security.
Recently, U.S. Congressional auditors have accused the development agency USAID of failing properly to administer its program to for promoting democracy in Cuba. They said USAID had channeled tens of millions of dollars through exile groups in Miami, which were sometimes wasteful or kept questionable accounts. The report said the organizations had sent items such as chocolate and cashmere jerseys to Cuba. Their report concludes that 30% of the exile groups who received USAID grants showed questionable expenditures.
In April 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama began implementing a less strict policy towards Cuba. The U.S. president had stated that he is open to dialogue with Cuba, but that he would only lift the trade embargo if Cuba has political change. In March 2009, Obama signed into law a Congressional spending bill which eased some economic sanctions on Cuba and eased travel restrictions on Cuban Americans (defined as persons with a relative "who is no more than three generations removed from that person") traveling to Cuba. The April executive-branch changes further removed time limits on Cuban American travel to the island. Another restriction loosened in April or 2009 was in the realm of telecommunications, which would allow quicker and easier access to the internet for Cuba. The loosening of restrictions is likely to help nonprofits and scientists from both countries who work together on issues of mutual concern, such as destruction of shared biodiversity. At the 2009 5th Summit of the Americas, President Obama signaled the opening of a new beginning with Cuba. On 27 July 2012, Raúl Castro said that the Cuban government is willing to hold talks with the United States government to "discuss anything".
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“It is commonplace that a problem stated is well on its way to solution, for statement of the nature of a problem signifies that the underlying quality is being transformed into determinate distinctions of terms and relations or has become an object of articulate thought.”
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“Major [William] McKinley visited me. He is on a stumping tour.... I criticized the bloody-shirt course of the canvass. It seems to me to be bad politics, and of no use.... It is a stale issue. An increasing number of people are interested in good relations with the South.... Two ways are open to succeed in the South: 1. A division of the white voters. 2. Education of the ignorant. Bloody-shirt utterances prevent division.”
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