Obama Challenges Castro To Stop Human Right Abuses In Cuba

President Barack Obama is making history. He is the first sitting president to visit Cuba in 88 years.

This follows 15 months of work that by the Obama administration to open a relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Air Force One touched down in Havana at 4:19 p.m. on Sunday, March 20th. Obama’s visit to Cuba will focus on reengaging in a commercial relationship with Cuba, and drawing attention to the human rights abuses of the Castro government.

President Obama met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Monday. Obama seemed comfortable in discussing normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, and in speaking out against the areas where the two leaders disagreed.

Obama said:

“For more than half a century, the sight of an American president in Havana would have been unimaginable. But this is a new day. Un nuevo dia.”

public press conference is not typical in Cuba. The two leaders appeared together after a meeting, during the President’s first full day in Cuba. The exchange began with generous statements from both leaders about the dramatic improvement of U.S. relations with Cuba. Castro said that normalizing relations between the two nations “benefits not only Cuba and the United States, but the entire hemisphere.”

Obama responded by saying that the U.S. and Cubans are engaged in more areas than at any other time in his life. The leaders both acknowledged that negotiating a relationship which benefits both countries will not be easy. Obama, with a nod to Cuban refugees, said:

“Fortunately, we don’t have to swim with sharks to achieve the goals that you and I have set forth.”

Castro called on the U.S. to abandon the territory it occupies at Guantanamo Bay, and to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. He added that until both are accomplished, relations will never be fully normalized.

The differences between the two leaders were clear. Obama spoke frankly to Castro about human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression during their two-hour meeting. The President said that he will continue to speak his mind about the state of human rights in Cuba, but will not impose the U.S. system on Cuba.

Featured image by DonkeyHotey, available under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.