It took President Barack Obama more than five years to fulfill his nearly forgotten pledge to "launch a new chapter of engagement" with Latin America. But hemispheric leaders are saying mejor tarde que nunca after this week's historic move to reestablish ties between the U.S. and Cuba.
Latin America had high hopes for Obama when he rolled up at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. president was three months in office and still promising change that the hemisphere could believe in. And when Obama took the mic at the summit, he didn't disappoint (that came later).
"I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time," Obama told leaders from across the hemisphere. "I'm here to launch a new chapter of engagement that will be sustained throughout my administration."
Then Obama went back to Washington and forget about all that…until this week, when he and Raul Castro made their surprise announcement of a new beginning to U.S.-Cuban relations. And Latin America applauded (again).
The secret negotiation, which began more than a year ago, started to rear its head about a month ago. First policy wonks in Washington started whispering about the possibility of Obama taking unilateral action on Cuba. Then the AP broke a story about USAID secretly funding Cuba's underground hip-hop scene — a story that some Cuba-watchers though smelled like a strategically leaked mea culpa, a public apology to seal the deal.
In any event, in less than 24 hours Obama has gone from el yanqui to "señor presidente" and — with one swift action — appears to have reversed his otherwise dubious legacy on Latin America.
Even Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who's trying his hardest to channel the spirit of former U.S. nemesis Hugo Chávez, tipped his hat to Obama, calling the move on Cuba a "brave gesture" and "perhaps the most important step he took during his whole presidency." Maduro called Obama's move an "historic rectification" of a failed U.S. policy that sought the collapse of Cuba.
Other leaders from throughout Latin America congratulated Obama and Castro in their own way.
Here's reaction from around Latin America, from head to toe.
Mexico's Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade congratulated the two countries, and strangely tried to take some of the credit even though Mexico played no role in the secret talks. "The decision by the governments of Cuba and the United State is consistent with the historic position of Mexico to look for peaceful solutions that promote peace."
Some presidents were very curt in their congratulatory words, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina.
"The government of Guatemala thinks the renewal of political and diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States is positive."
Other governments were more long-winded. And when it comes to rambling, few do it better than Nicaraguan government spokeswoman and first lady Rosario Murillo.
"[Today] is a day of wise decisions, a day that puts an end to much injustice, a day in which we hug ourselves in congratulations, the people of our America and the Caribbean, they have recognized the right to live in peace and prosperity, and initiated a process of recognition the right to prosper of a great people, a valiant people, a people who have held firm, dedicated, exemplary, inspirational with a revolutionary orientation that has inspired the free countries of the world, with a leader like Comandante Fidel Castro Ruiz, who is the leader of revolutions in our America as well," Rosario said. Breath. "Today is a day of recognition of the injustice that was imposed, the arbitrariness, the illegality, was recognized as arbitrary, that was unjust, it was recognized and they started on the path — we hope — that is distinct."
Oh yeah, she added, President Daniel Ortega says hi too.
El Salvador's leftwing President Salvador Sanchez sent a Twitter fist-bump to the Pope, who turned 78 on the same day as the new U.S.-Cuba relations were announced.
"Greetings to Pope Francisco on his birthday and for this beautiful gift that he gave to the world by facilitating the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States ," he tweeted (that's 182 characters in English, but the tweet works in Spanish)
Sanchez called the agreement an "historic accord reached between Cuba and the United States is a signal of peace, progress and development for our people."
Costa Rica's Luis Guillermo Solís tweeted that the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will open a new moment in the dialogue between the U.S. and Latin America. He said Costa Rica supports the move "without reservation" and feels pretty happy about it.
The Costa Rican presidency, which operates its own Twitter account, said the day marks a before and after in the history of the Americas, and a new chapter in regional multilateralism.
Panama, which will host next year's Summit of the Americas, is already anticipating that the thawing Cold War relations between the U.S. and Cuba is setting the stage for a successful hemispheric summit next April.
"I celebrate the new era in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. In the Summit of the Americas we will fulfill the dream of a united region," tweeted Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who leans closer to the U.S. than Cuba on most matters, gave perhaps the loudest shoutout to President Obama.
"We celebrate the courage and audacity of President @BarackObama and of the Cuban government for creating a future of peace on the American continent," Santos tweeted.
Santos went on to say that his government would do whatever it takes to support this historic effort between "different visions that coexist in America."
"Cuba and the US are an example however big the division, with dialogue and perseverance it's possible to settle differences," the Colombian president said.
Argentina's leftist President Cristina Kirchner said the announcement by Obama and Castro was something she "never thought she'd see happen," and chalked it up as a victory for Cuba.
"When a people have a strong will and are lead by leaders who don't betray them, sooner or later they will arrive at their objectives," she tweeted thoughtfully.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was also surprised by the announcement. She too said "we never thought we'd see this moment of restart to the relations between the United States and Cuba." Rousseff thanked Pope Francis for being "really one of the most important factors" to bringing the two sides together.
"It's a moment that marks a change in our civilization, showing that its possible to reestablish relations that were interrupted many years ago," Rousseff said during a South American summit in Argentina.
Ecuador's Rafael Correa, meanwhile, is still having a double-rainbow moment. "Yesterday was an historic day for our America. I still haven't processed what is happening. It's beautifully incredible. Cuba and the USA," Correa tweeted.