US, Cuba must coexist “in a civilized manner” – Castro tells Obama

WASHINGTON, March 21 (KUNA) — US and Cuban leaders acknowledged that while major differences still come between them, they have made progress on economic issues such as introducing two-way commerce, lifting travel restrictions, and allowing easier financial transactions.
“We should learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner,” Cuban President Raul Castro told a joint press conference with Barack Obama in Havana Monday.
“We should promote links that can benefit both our countries and peoples,” he said.
He added that their “profound differences will not go away,” but stressed that the greatest obstacle to the wellbeing of the Cuban people is the US-imposed blockade, which has been in place for more than half a century.
“Cuba has much to say and show,” he said, noting his willingness to continue on a path toward the normalization of relations between the two countries.
For his part, Obama said it was a matter of when, not if, the blockade is lifted. He could not provide an exact timeline.
“I continue to call on Congress to lift the trade embargo,” he added, noting that Cuba’s progress on making high-speed internet available would play a major role in their decision.
“In the 21st century countries cannot be successful unless their citizens have access to the internet,” he said.
Obama welcomed Castro’s “constructive dialogue” on what he conceded are the “shortcomings” of the US in education, poverty, and race relations, among other areas. At the same time, he emphasized that the US will continue to speak up for democracy and human rights.
A US-Cuba human rights dialogue has been announced for later this year in Havana, with independent observers from the UN in attendance. The summit is not intended for the US to lecture Cuba, Obama said, but rather to have “a frank discussion.” In a rare move, Castro agreed to take a question from a CNN reporter who asked why Cuba is holding political prisoners, and why they cannot be released.
“Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them,” he responded.
Castro said no country in the world can claim it has not violated human rights, and quickly turned to focus on Cuba’s provision of basic rights that the US does not provide: universal healthcare, universal access to education, and equal pay for men and women.
Castro also called for the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo Bay, which the US president did not address, and urged his northern neighbor not to interfere with the aspirations of the Cuban people.
“Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation,” Obama assured him.
The US president then commended Cuba’s role in “leading research” on the Zika virus, as well as Cuba’s efforts in combating Ebola in West Africa and providing medical aid to victims of the Haiti earthquake.
While “the road ahead will not be easy,” he said he has “enormous hope” for reconciliation.
“We don’t view Cuba as a threat to the United States,” Obama said. (end)