Obama’s Day 2 in Cuba with Raul Castro

March 21, 2016 | Print Print |

By Isaac Risco and Judge Beatriz

Obama being received at the Palace of the Revolution. Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebae

Obama being received at the Palace of the Revolution. Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebae

HAVANA TIMES — The presidents of Cuba and the United States, Barack Obama and Raul Castro, met today to give a new impetus to the historic rapprochement between the two countries with their first encounter on Cuban soil, reported dpa news.

Obama said the meeting with Castro at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana marks “a new day” in the difficult relations between the two former ideological enemies. Raul Castro also welcomed the thaw started 15 months ago, despite the differences that still divide the two governments.

“We must practice the art of civilized coexistence,” Castro asked in a joint appearance and press conference with his US counterpart. Castro symbolically raised Obama’s arm at the end of the presentation to the media. The president of the island almost never gives press conferences in Havana.

The following is the tape of the press conference following the Obama-Castro meeting. Obama speaks in English and Castro in Spanish.

The presidents held private talks for two hours before the press conference. The meeting is the third between the two heads of state since the restored relations began in December 2014.

“Half a century ago, the presence of a President of the United States here in Havana would have been unthinkable, but it is a new day between our two countries,” said Obama, the first US president to travel to Cuba in 88 years said.

The US president stressed that sharp differences still remain between the two countries on certain issues. “The United States believes in democracy. We believe that freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of worship are not just American values but universal values,” he said.

“I’m waiting to meet and listen to the leaders of the Cuban civil society tomorrow,” he said in relation to a meeting that is scheduled on Tuesday with a dozen dissidents.

Relations between Washington and Havana “will not transform overnight”, predicted the president.

Castro, meanwhile, did not evade addressing the thorniest issues for which his government is criticized from the United States and by dissidents at home. The younger brother of Fidel Castro called for the lifting of the embargo and the return of the Guantanamo naval base in the east of the island, and indirectly rejected the presence of political prisoners on the island.

The Obama - Castro press conference after their private meeting. Photo: telesurtv.net

The Obama – Castro press conference after their private meeting. Photo: telesurtv.net

“Give me the list of political prisoners to release them right now,” the president responded to a journalist’s question.

Following Castro’s statement, several human rights organizations close to the Cuban exile community began circulating lists of the names of prisoners. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), the only non-governmental group that collects such data within the island, says the number of political prisoners is 80. The Castro government does not recognize the CCDHRN, although it tolerates its existence.

The Cuban president also rejected criticism on the situation of civil liberties on the island. “We defend human rights,” he said. Havana links them especially to collective achievements such as universal access to health and education, guaranteed on the island, and denies that his government fails to respect civil rights.

Obama was received this morning with military honors at the Palace of the Revolution, where he went to meet with Castro. It was the first time the two leaders saw each other since the US president arrived on the island on Sunday for three-day visit. Raul Castro greeted Obama with a handshake before starting the official meeting.

Earlier, Obama had placed a wreath at the monument to Cuban national hero Jose Marti in the nearby Revolution Square, where former President Fidel Castro used to pronounce marathon speeches criticizing US imperialism.

The Che sculpture in Revolution Square Havana.

The Che sculpture in Revolution Square Havana.

The square is also known for a giant image of Argentine guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara on a nearby building, and another of Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.

Obama’s visit to Cuba does not provide for a meeting with Fidel Castro, who has lived for years mostly removed from public view. Fidel did meet earlier in the week with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Dozens of onlookers stationed on the streets near the Plaza of the Revolution to see Obama pass by celebrated with shouts to the US delegation. Some wore symbols with the colors of the American flag or T-shirts with the iconic image of Obama that became popular in the 2008 US elections and the word “Change”.

Cuba and the United States were at odds for more than half a century after the triumph of the revolution in 1959. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1961, a peak of the Cold War between capitalist and communist blocks.

Castro and Obama held the first face-to-face meeting in decades between presidents of the two countries in April 2015, during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. They met again last September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The governments of Washington and Havana formally resumed diplomatic relations in July 2015 after 54 years. Over the last 15 months top and mid-level officials of the two governments have met to forge cooperation in a number of areas including fighting human and drug trafficking, on anti-terrorism, and on environmental issues.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    I was pleased to hear Obama repeat several times his focus on basic human rights. Castro attempted to deflect the inference but Obama’s comments made it clear why the US will continue to press for more democracy in Cuba. Raul by comparison looked exactly like the stubborn old dictator that he is.

    • Stephen Boka

      Guantanamo? Waterboarding? Torture?

      • Moses Patterson

        Nice try. We can debate how civilized 21st. century governments should respond to suspected terrorists in a different forum. But how government should respond to peaceful protesters is an issue democracies have resolved a long time ago. The Castros didn’t get the memo.

      • Tommy Kellerman

        An order issued by Dubya and the Republicans when the War on Terror began. Torture wasn’t the news here really, not as much as making it official news. And honestly, you don’t think GTMO is the only place in Cuba where torture occurs, do you?

  • nidal shehadeh

    can someone please Define human rights for me , what about Palestine what about Iraq what about Syria,
    by what right the Americans demand human rights in Cuba considering that the are the one’s who support the worst violation of human rights in the world , Is the Americans demanding human rights and democracy from the Saudis ,
    as much as I admire President Obama as an individual as much as I disagree with him as a president ,
    how should people live in one country is up to them democracy cannot be enforced on anyone it has to grow from the inside of the country ,
    in United States of America Federal violation of civil rights Carrie’s 10 years in jail for each count , out of my own personal experience I would tell you all of that is ink on paper

    • Tommy Kellerman

      Freedom of speech = the ability to criticize President Obama, without getting ANY judicial (and political) reprisals (or worse) for it.
      Try that as a Cuban citizen, criticizing the Castro family. Please.
      The Americans demand nothing. As you wrote yourself, Obama clearly stated in his speech that democracy and the demand for it must come from the Cuban people, from within. The Saudis could do a lot more for human rights and the Syrian people and refugees than what has been done. The US and the EU give them well-deserved feedback about that from time to time, but as long as oil is an issue the Saudis obviously can’t be touched, I’m sorry to say. And if people in Palestine, Iraq and Syria want peace, democracy and freedom and want what the US and the EU have in their societies today, the people need to fight for it, fight the extremists in their midst instead of tolerating them and joining their cause.
      You say you “disagree” with Obama as a president. I would LOVE to see what kind of word you’d use about a Republican president and Commander-in-chief at the helm of the most powerful nation on Earth after next election.

  • Dios bendiga los dos, Viva Cuba, read the history, MOON Books, cool guy author, and best Ruiz comic the real History of CUBA Pathfinder press, MY copy bought in Managua, 1984 , get educated before you run your mouths off all naysayers

  • Carol de Sa Campos

    With Guantanamo still there I cannot understand how anybody can talk about Cuba’s civil rights problems. And, how about equal pay for women and men? That’s a civil rights issue — here! I’m thrilled that we are becoming good neighbors, being civil, offering mutual friendship and respect for each other’s right to exist. That’s wonderful.

    • Exactly – the US tortures people every day, aside from the horrible mass murder it has carried out in each of its wars, plus the endless assassinations and coups all over Latina America and elsewhere (eh! drones) and it still trots out this insane discourse about Cuba being the one with a “human rights” problem. Moreover, the incarcerated population in the US is proportionally larger than the Cuban one…

      • Tommy Kellerman

        Alessandra – blame much?
        The US has, side by side with Europe over the years, fought for democracy and against nazis and terrorists and is taking stand against extremists who with no regard to life and freedom execute men, women and children at their will.
        You say the US tortures people every day. I can’t say that is a lie, maybe you have info I don’t have access to. Are you saying also torture doesn’t happen in Cuba?
        Right now ISIL and the Taliban are the biggest threats in the world, and all I can see from your post is negativity and focus on bad issues. Sure, the US has its issues, but so do many nations around the globe, i.e. for the US it’s with detainees in Guantanamo, poor social safety nets and a high level of imprisonment, but at least its citizens are granted peace within its borders, a free Internet, the ability to travel the world and freedom of speech and religion.

      • Tommy Kellerman

        Alessandra – blame much?
        The US has, side by side with Europe over the years, fought for democracy and against nazis and terrorists and is taking stand against extremists who with no regard to life and freedom execute men, women and children at their will.

        You say the US tortures people every day. I can’t say that is a lie, maybe you have info I don’t have access to. Are you saying also torture doesn’t happen in Cuba?

        Right now ISIL and the Taliban are the biggest threats in the world, and all I can see from your post is negativity and focus on bad issues. Sure, the US has its issues, but so do many nations around the globe, i.e. for the US it’s with detainees in Guantanamo, poor social safety nets and a high level of imprisonment, but at least its citizens are granted peace within its borders, a free Internet, the ability to travel the world and freedom of speech and religion.

  • Tommy Kellerman

    Interesting concept of trying to have a discussion on this forum and expressing an opinon, when everything I write gets deleted by the moderators.
    Everything pro-US obviously gets erased.
    But anything against the US seems to slip right through.

    I’ve tried more than twice now.
    I understand the moderators’ dilemma though, bet you will lose your job for allowing posts like mine, or risk worse.

    Wow. There’s free speech for you, right there. I made my point.

    I look forward to a Cuba where discussions like these can be had indiscriminately, and opinions heard, read and understood without censorship, online and offline.
    At least I live in a nation where I can post my opinions without having to worry about reprisals from the government.

  • Nick

    I think that with the Human Rights issue President Castro was fairly restrained and played the amiable host role.
    Obviously he alluded to the fact that it is inconceivable to the rest of the world that the USA, with all its wealth, still denies the basic right of healthcare to a significant section of it’s citizens.
    However he made no mention in the press conference of the U.S. torture center stationed on an illegally occupied part of Cuba.
    Perhaps he saved discussion of that aspect of U.S. human rights record for the private conversation with President Obama ?
    I think President Obama has tried valiantly to improve the USA’s human rights record regarding healthcare and torture, but perhaps he is a moderate man in a place with an immoderate culture ??

    • Tommy Kellerman

      Nick – I agree. President Castro feels to me like a good host, and I honestly expected a little drama when President Obama lifted the Human Rights issue.
      Regarding GTMO being on an illegally occupied part of Cuba – According to article 4 in the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties, it’s not.
      And I hardly believe US torturing extremist suspects from all over the world would stop with closing down Guantanamo.
      And President Obama had to fight the Republicans in every single matter regarding healthcare AND shutting down Guantanamo (amongst other matters) since he took office, to many Republicans dissent I might add.

      • Nick

        Tommy -Thank You for your reply sir.
        I think that perhaps the events and what was going to be said and not going to be said was staged managed to a significant degree. Maybe diplomacy won the day?
        President Obama in Cuba is a monumental event in my eyes.
        I’m an Englishman who has spent much time in Cuba.
        I know how much his visit means to ordinary Cubans and how highly he is regarded there.
        In reality the rivalry between Cuba and USA has been fairly benign for a while – a stark contrast to the George W Bush years.
        The terrible events in Belgium today show how benign Cuba-USA actually is in comparison.
        ‘Extremist suspects’ should not be tortured anywhere. It probably only helps to create more Extremists.
        Guantanamo may not belong to Cuba according to Article 4, but it belongs to Cuba morally. It will surely be a part of Cuban sovereign territory one day.
        I respect your President Obama for his taking the trouble to visit Cuba.
        It’s a big step for a U.S. President to take and will help to bring a ridiculous impasse to a gradual end.
        I also admire his efforts regarding healthcare, trying to close down Camp X Ray, gun control etc…
        And fully agree that his efforts have been stymied by the G.O.P. (in what has seemed to me to be a very disgraceful way at times).
        He’s a good man.
        And with the possibility of Trump being his successor……
        President Obama seems like a blessing from above.

  • Barbara Ingram-Monk

    Dear Cuban people – what worries me most about the changes to come is that you will turn into consumers. Please resist all attempts by McDonald’s to get their greasy mitts on you, likewise KFC and Starbucks. (How could Starbucks compete with your fabulous Cuban coffee anyway?) And please resist all attempts to turn into Smartphone Zombies, with your heads bowed in front of that altar to unnecessary communication. Capitalism, consumerism and money are not the panacea to all ills. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – stay as sweet as you are and true to yourselves.