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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro have advanced their historic goal of resuming U.S.-Cuba ties with the first direct meeting between leaders of the two countries in a half-century. Obama and Castro sat down Saturday at the Summit of the Americas, which Cuba was attending for the first time. Addressing the plenary, Obama said his decision to scale back U.S. isolation of Cuba marks a turning point for the Americas.
President Obama: “This shift in U.S. policy represents a turning point for our entire region. The fact that President Castro and I are both sitting here today marks a historic occasion. It is the first time in more than half a century that all the nations of the Americas are meeting to address our future together. I think it’s no secret — President Castro, I’m sure, would agree — that there will continue to be significant differences between our two countries. We will continue to speak out on behalf of universal values that we think are important. I’m sure President Castro will continue to speak out on the issues he thinks are important. But I firmly believe that if we can continue to move forward and seize this momentum in pursuit of mutual interests, then better relations between the United States and Cuba will create new opportunities for cooperation across our region for the security and prosperity and health and dignity of all our people.”
Obama later called his meeting with Castro “candid and fruitful,” and said a decision will come soon on Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In his remarks at the Summit of the Americas, Cuban President Raúl Castro said Cuba should never have made the U.S. terrorist list in the first place.
Cuban President Raúl Castro: “We have expressed, and I repeated it again here to President Obama, our willingness for respectful dialogue between both states within our profound differences. I see as a positive step his recent statements that he will quickly decide to remove the existence of Cuba from a list of countries that sponsor state terror, and on which we should never have been included.”
Castro also renewed calls for the U.S. Congress to end the embargo of Cuba, which he said has harmed his country for decades.
As the United States and Cuba signaled new cooperation, President Obama also heard criticism of his recent order designating Venezuela a threat to national security. The White House backed off the order last week, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro told Obama he does not trust him.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: “I want to believe you. But I don’t trust you. I respect you, but I don’t trust you, President Obama. If you are willing, we’ll talk. But if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. It will be your legacy with Venezuela — the order, the silence, the predominance. I have said it several times, President Obama. Don’t let things happen as they did with George W. Bush, who supported the coup against Comandante Chávez. History should go another way. I extend my hand, President Obama, so that we can talk and resolve the issues we have to resolve between the United States of North America and Venezuela in peace.”
Maduro presented the summit with a petition signed by millions of Venezuelans calling on Obama to rescind the order. He later said he hopes to explore talks with the United States and “relations with respect.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: “It was a serious, frank meeting. We told the truth, but it was cordial. We believe that the result of the summit, supported by the handing over of 10.5 million signatures, with the support of the people, with the willingness of our peoples, we could open up the possibility of a process for talks with the United States government and explore a path to relations with respect, which is fundamental.”
Saudi Arabia has dismissed Iranian calls for an end to its bombing campaign in Yemen. Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged a ceasefire and dialogue among rival Yemeni factions. But on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said, “Iran is not in charge of Yemen.” Faisal’s comments come as the Saudi-led airstrikes have faced a rebuke from Pakistan. On Friday, Pakistani lawmakers voted to reject a Saudi request to join the campaign.
Former secretary of state and first lady Hillary Clinton has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House in a bid to become the first female U.S. president. If she wins the Democratic Party’s nomination, Clinton will be the first woman presidential nominee in the party’s history. We will host a debate on her candidacy later in the broadcast.
The United Nations continues to issue warnings over Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp invaded by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria. The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Pierre Krähenbühl, said the United Nations is seeking to help civilians who have managed to flee.
Pierre Krähenbühl: “Today we remain very worried for the refugees and the civilians who are inside Yarmouk. We are very determined to provide assistance to those who have decided temporarily to leave the camp itself and to find shelter elsewhere, and we will take very seriously the needs also in Yalda and Babila. We’re very determined to be able to respond to the needs of the people who have reached there.”
Four Blackwater operatives will be sentenced today for their role in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The operatives were found guilty last year on charges linked to the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when the defendants’ Blackwater unit opened fire. Nisoor Square is the highest-profile deadly incident involving Blackwater or any private war contractor. According to The New York Times, political appointees at the Bush administration Justice Department resisted charges sought by federal prosecutors in late 2008. The prosecutors wanted to bring two machine-gun charges, each carrying 30 years in prison, but instead only winded up bringing one such charge. An FBI agent involved in the investigation called the lesser charges “an insult to the individual victims, the Iraqi people as a whole, and the American people who expect their Justice Department to act better than this.”
Hundreds of people gathered in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday for the funeral of Walter Scott, the black man fatally shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager.
Carla Justice: “It’s a senseless tragedy. You know, it’s something that could have been avoided. I know for a fact that cops are taught at the academy, when somebody runs away from you, you do not shoot them, unless somebody else’s life is in jeopardy. So, looking at the video, it was clearly — the officer was wrong. At the same time, I lift his family up, I lift him up in prayer, as well as the Scotts. It’s just a tragedy.”
Video has been released showing an Oklahoma reserve sheriff’s deputy mistakenly shooting and killing an African American with his handgun, instead of his stun gun. Video from the Oklahoma sheriff’s department shows police officers exiting their cars and chasing the victim, Eric Harris, who was unarmed. After officers catch up to Harris and bring him to the ground, an officer calls out the word “Taser” twice, before firing a single, fatal shot at Harris. The other officers on the scene respond to Harris’ pleas for help by forcefully pinning him to the ground and telling him to shut up. When Harris says: “I’m losing my breath,” an officer responds, “—-—- your breath.” Harris was pronounced dead an hour later. The deputy who killed Harris, Robert Bates, is a wealthy insurance executive and heavy donor to the Tulsa police department, who gets to volunteer as a reserve.
Ten sheriff’s deputies have been suspended in California after their savage beating of a man was caught on video. A news helicopter filmed the deputies kicking and punching Francis Pusok as he lay face down in the desert after a chase. The FBI is investigating whether Pusok’s civil rights were violated.
Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, has been freed from prison. Orta’s supporters raised nearly $40,000 to pay for his bail bond so he could be released from Rikers, where he is being held on a drug charge. The district attorney initially demanded a “bail source” hearing to determine if the funds were obtained illegally, even though they were publicly raised. But Orta was released after the prosecutor backed down. Orta and his family say police have targeted them over Orta’s filming of Garner’s death.