Latin American Leaders Cheer Historic Opening Of U.S.-Cuba Relations

General view during the 47th Mercosur Summit, in Parana, Entre Rios, Argentina on December 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabroma
General view during the 47th Mercosur Summit, in Parana, Entre Rios, Argentina on December 17, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Juan Mabromata (Photo credit should read JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Leaders across Latin America from both the right and the left cheered on the historic steps taken by the governments of the United States and Cuba to thaw their long-frozen relations.

The jailing of U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross since 2009 had long stood as the largest obstacle for the Obama administration toward further relations. The prisoner swap that led to Gross's release on Wednesday paved the way for sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the establishment of embassies in Havana and Washington for the first time since 1961, reviewing whether Cuba should remain on the "State Sponsors of Terrorism" List and allowing American travelers to bring some items purchased in Cuba home with them (yes, including $100 worth of cigars).

For most heads of state in Latin America, where the embargo is unpopular and Cuba generally isn't viewed as a pariah, the move was long overdue.

Here's what Latin American leaders had to say:

Colombia: Conservative President Juan Manuel Santos applauded both the U.S. and Cuban governments' "courage" through Twitter.

"We celebrate the courage and audacity of President Barack Obama and the Cuban government to create a peaceful future in the American continent."

Peru: Left-leaning President Ollanta Humala also celebrated the event.

"It's a brave, historic decision that opens a new stage in the process of America's integration."

Venezuela: Leftist President Nicolás Maduro focused his comments on the release of three Cuban prisoners convicted spying in the United States, a cause championed by the Cuban government for years.

Maduro said that "we were living a historic day" due to the liberation of the prisoners while at the 47th Mercosur Summit in Argentina. He also said that the event was made possible due to "actions by Fidel Castro" while recognizing Obama's role in the process, according to local Venezuelan media.

Mexico: President Enrique Peña Nieto's government released another positive statement, saying the move was a step forward for both countries.

"The government of Enrique Peña Nieto celebrates the measures announced by both countries in reference to political dialogue and openness in various aspects."

Argentina: President Cristina Fernández praised the Cuban people for their "courage."

Fernández, who just handed over the temporary presidency of Mercosur to Dilma Rousseff, specifically congratulated the Cuban government and its people on behalf of Mercosur (which stands for Southern Common Market, in Spanish). The sub-regional bloc counts Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela among its members. She said the process of normalizing relations with the U.S. had been undertaken with "absolute dignity and on an equal standing," according to EFE.

Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff congratulated both countries on the opening of relations.

Rousseff heaped praise on both Obama and Castro for the reconciliation. She also gave a shoutout to Pope Francis, saying the agreement "sets an example that it is possible to reestablish broken relations."

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