Caribbean News Service (CNS).
HAVANA, Cuba, Mar 21 2016 – “This is a new day between our two countries,” President Obama said after meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro in Havana.
The two leaders agreed that there are still deep fissures between the two countries and that a healthy relationship between them will take work.
That uneasiness was apparent as soon as journalists began asking questions. Obama and Castro were not supposed to take questions, but a last minute change made that possible.
In Spanish, a journalist asked Castro why his country kept political prisoners.
Clearly miffed, Castro asked the reporter to hand over a list of political prisoners.
“If there are political prisoners, they will be released by nightfall,” Castro said.
Obama was diplomatic when he addressed Cuba’s human rights record. He said that the U.S. would continue to press the issue of freedom of speech and expression, much like it does around the world.
The United States, however, cannot force change on the island.
“Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation,” Obama said. “Cuba is sovereign and the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans and not by anybody else.”
Castro said it was unfair to focus solely on the issue of freedom expression. Cuba, he said, views many things as human rights, including the right to free healthcare and education.
“Here in Cuba all children are born in a hospital no matter what mountain they live on,” Castro said. “In Cuba, men and women who do the same job earn the same.”
All countries, he said, have failings on human rights, but all countries also excel in other areas.
“We’re going to work together so we can all achieve all of the human rights,” Castro said.
President Obama’s official visit to Cuba began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the foot of a memorial to Cuban independence hero and poet José Martí.
In the evening, Obama will attend a state dinner at the Palace of the Revolution.