In a historic Tuesday address to the Cuban people, President Barack Obama attempted to turn the page on tense relations between the United States and Cuba while urging the island country’s leaders to embrace democratic principles.
Obama, addressing leaders that included Cuban President Raúl Castro, said although the two governments still have differences, he would not abide by policies of past presidents that he said were not addressing modern concerns.
“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” Obama said.
He returned to the theme at multiple points in the speech.
“I know the history. But I refuse to be trapped by it,” he said later.
Throughout his address, Obama repeatedly called for additional political rights for the Cuban people. He called for open elections, expanded free-speech rights, and more access to the Internet.
“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,” he said.
Not all the speech was critical of the Cuban government.
Obama acknowledged Castro’s frequent complaints about US foreign wars abroad and the outsize influence of money in US politics. The president also reiterated his call for Congress to lift the US trade embargo on Cuba.
Obama’s call for democracy has been a key part of his trip to the island nation.
His speech came a day after a tense joint press conference between Obama and Castro, in which Castro was pressed by CNN reporter Jim Acosta about the Cuban regime’s refusal to acknowledge locking up political dissidents.
“Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names or when, after this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners and if we have those political prisoners they will be released before tonight ends,” Castro responded.
Obama’s trip to Cuba marks the first time since 1928 that a sitting US president has visited the island.
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