US President Barack Obama
says he and Cuban President Raul Castro had a “frank and candid conversation” on human rights and democracy, and are making progress in tearing down barriers between the two nations.
In extended remarks after the first private meeting between the leaders, Obama declared it a “new day” in relations between the US and Cuba
The President noted the two nations have “very serious differences,” particularly on areas regarding freedom of speech, assembly and religious liberty. But Obama says he believes the two governments are capable of having a “constructive dialogue”.
Obama noted success in increasing travel between the nations, increased trade and tourism. He says he’s working to ease the path for joint corporate ventures and hiring more Cubans in the US.
Obama sought to reassure Cubans wary of the return of US engagement. He said: “Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the US or any other nation.
…The future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans not by anybody else.”
For his part, Castro is calling on Obama to lift even more restrictions on Cuba.
He’s also urging the return of land used for the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
Castro says in a statement after a meeting with the US President that he welcomes changes by Obama to allow commercial flights to resume and changes in the area of telecommunications, for example. But he says an economic blockade that remains in place is the “most important obstacle” to Cuba’s economic development and the well-being of the Cuban people.
Castro says he recognises that Obama wants the blockade lifted entirely, but that Congress has refused to go along.Castro spoke after meeting with Obama in Havana during Obama’s historic visit to the island nation.
Brushing off decades of distrust, US President Barack Obama
and Castro earlier shook hands in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, a remarkable moment for two countries working to put the bitterness of their Cold War-era enmity behind them.
Obama and Castro stood together as a Cuban military band played the national anthems of Cuba and the United States
– stunning sounds in a country where resistance to the US has been part of the national mission for decades. Greeting each other warmly, the two leaders inspected an honour guard before sitting down in front of American and Cuban flags.
Whether Obama and Castro could use the meeting, one of the first since Cuba’s 1959 revolution and the only one in Cuba, to further the ambitious diplomatic experiment they started 15 months ago was an open question, infusing Obama’s historic trip to Cuba with uncertainty and tension for both governments.
For Obama, there was no better place than Havana to show that engagement can do more than isolation to bring about change on the communist island. Yet for the Cubans, the glaring question is whether their own government is ready to prove the ambitious diplomatic opening is more than just talk.
American companies, eager for opportunities in Cuba, were wasting no time. Obama announced that tech giant Google had struck a deal to expand Wi-Fi and broadband Internet on the island south of Florida.
Outside the palace in Havana’s sprawling Revolution Square, Obama posed for a photo in front of a giant sculpture of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, creating an indelible image sure to reverberate in Cuba and beyond. The revolutionary leader was once one of Fidel Castro’s top lieutenants, his face an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution that is revered by some but reviled by others.
Paying tribute to another Cuban independence hero, Obama adjusted a wreath at the foot of a 18m statue of Jose Marti, calling his trip “a historic moment.”