Cuban president Raúl Castro and Barack Obama convened over human rights issues, including the American prison at Guantanamo Bay and Cuba’s political prisoners, on Monday 21 March.
At a historic news conference Mr. Castro stated that if he was given a list of political prisoners, he would “release them tonight”. The White House has said that it has given Cuba lists of dissidents in the past but has not confirmed that it is set to do so again.
Mr. Castro, who had previously praised Pope Francis for the historic rapprochement between the US and Cuba, does not view the prisoners as dissidents. This disagreement is central to the conflict between American and Cuban officials.
At the conference Mr. Castro insisted that more needs to be done in order to lift the US embargo on trade with Cuba, while adding that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp must close.
Mr. Castro defended Cuba’s record surrounding human rights and highlighted problems within the US, he said, “We defend human rights, in our view civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, interdependent and universal. Actually we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to healthcare, education, social security, food provision and development”.
As the press conference concluded the pair announced the signing of several agreements to increase cooperation and economic investment between the two countries.
Mr. Obama, who embarked on the first US presidential visit to Cuba in 88 years, revealed that the trade embargo would be fully lifted. Obama said, “Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation… the future of Cuba will be decided by Cuban’s not by anybody else”.
There was an absurd and humorous moment as the two said farewell to each other. Obama’s left arm was rather awkwardly left in limbo as Castro seemingly rejected the embracing clutches of the US president.