US and Cuban Presidents hail “New Day” in Relationship, Despite Differences


The presidents of the US and Cuba have held their first meeting on Cuban soil in nearly 90 years. President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro hailed a “new day” in relations, despite ongoing differences.

After talks between Obama and President Raul Castro on Monday, the US President said the two had “frank and candid” discussions about human rights as well as areas of cooperation.

“We continue to have serious differences, including on democracy and human rights,” Obama said at a joint news conference after their meeting. He said that human rights remained an impediment to the strengthening of ties. A “full flowering” of the relationship could only happen with progress on the issue of rights.

“In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant,” Obama said at the news conference that was broadcast live on Cuban state television.

Obama has become the first sitting US president to visit the Caribbean island since 1928. He hailed a “new day,” speaking in Spanish “nuevo dia,” in relations between the former Cold War foes. Since 2014 there have been talks between the two countries, some of them facilitated by the Vatican.

In Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, Obama vowed that “Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation.”

However, Obama said that the US “will continue tospeak up on behalf of democracy.”

Earlier in the day, Obama laid a wreath at the memorial to the 19th century poet, writer and independence hero Jose Marti. He wrote in the guest book: “It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom, and self-determination lives on in the Cuban people today.”

It was the third meeting between the two presidents. Castro acknowledged there were still “profound” differences over human rights and the decades-old US economic embargo. He pointedly refused to acknowledge that Cuba holds political prisoners.

“Give me a list of those political prisoners right now and if the list exists they will be released before the night is through,” Castro said.

Castro said that the two countries could achieve much better ties if the US lifted its 54-year-old trade embargo on the island and handed back the Guantanamo Bay base to Cuba.

On a lighter note, the Cuban president said the former enemies should be inspired by the US endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who in 2013 managed on her fifth attempt to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. “If she can do it, we can do it too,” Castro said.

The sporting theme continues on Tuesday, with abaseball matchbetween the Cuban national team and visiting Tampa Bay Rays from Florida which the presidents are due to attend.


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