Cuban President Raúl Castro called on President Barack Obama on Monday to lift longstanding U.S. trade and other restrictions as he and Obama pledged to move forward with normalizing relations between Cuba and its longtime Cold War-era foe.
“This is a new day,” Obama said, standing alongside Castro after their meeting at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution.
In a history-making meeting in Havana, Castro praised Obama’s recent steps to relax controls on Cuba as “positive,” but deemed them insufficient. He called anew for the U.S. to return its naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuba and to lift the U.S. trade embargo.
“That is essential, because the blockade remains in place, and it contains discouraging elements,” Castro said.
Obama came to Cuba pledging to press its leaders on human rights and political freedoms, and vowing that the mere fact of a visit by an American leader would promote those values on the island. Castro worked to turn the tables on Obama by saying Cuba found it “inconceivable” for a government to fail to ensure health care, education, food and social security for its people — a clear reference to the U.S.
“We defend human rights,” Castro said. “In our view, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, interdependent and universal.”