HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban President Raul Castro told Cubans Wednesday his nation has agreed to restore relations with the United States, 53 years after diplomatic ties were broken.
Castro spoke in a televised address that coincided with a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, saying that while profound differences remain between the two countries, they must learn to live with them "in a civilized manner."
Streets in Havana were calm as people gathered around television sets and teachers stopped their midday lessons to listen to the historic news.
But as Castro spoke, church bells tolled in celebration at the University of San Geronimo in Old Havana.
"For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish-come-true, because with this, we have overcome our differences," said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old IT specialist. "It is an advance that will open the road to a better future for the two countries."
Guillermo Delgado, a 72-year-old retiree, welcomed the announcement as "great news."
"It is a victory for Cuba because it was achieved without conceding basic principles," Delgado said. "For Obama, I think it's a spectacular step, that all countries should change this irrational policy."
In his address, Castro thanked the Vatican and the Canadian government for helping in the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Castro and his brother, Fidel, led the 1959 rebellion that toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The U.S. initially recognized the new government but broke relations in 1961 after Cuba veered sharply to the left and nationalized U.S. owned businesses.