President Barack Obama on Tuesday used Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to demonstrate to a Cuban audience the strides that America has made in the last several years.
In a sweeping address in front of the Cuban leaders like Raúl Castro, Obama said the fact that Cuban-Americans like Cruz and Rubio could credibly seek the Republican nomination and win primary states showed the progress that democracy has helped achieve in the US.
“Just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign. You have two Cuban-Americans in the Republican party running against the legacy a black man who is president while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee, who will either be a woman or a Democratic socialist,” Obama said, referencing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Who would have believed that in 1959?” he asked. “That is a measure of the progress in our democracy.”
Obama repeatedly drew on his own personal story in the speech, citing how the American democratic system, while flawed, afforded people like him the opportunity to be president.
“In 1959, the year my father came to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states. When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools in the American South,” he said.
“But people organised. they protested, they debated these issues, they challenged their government,” he added. “And because of those protests and those debates … I’m able to stand here as an African-American and as president.”
Though he praised the improved relations between the Cuban and American governments since the two nations began normalizing relations in December 2014, the president spoke at length on Tuesday about the need for improved democratic rights for Cubans, such as the right to protest and open internet access.
“I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear. To organise and to criticise their government and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who express those rights,” Obama said.
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