Obama urges political and economic change in speech to Cubans

Obama urges political and economic change in speech to Cubans

US President Barack Obama challenged Cuba's Communist government with an impassioned call for democratic and economic change on Tuesday, addressing the Cuban people directly in a historic speech broadcast throughout the island, Reuters reported.

Taking the stage at Havana's Grand Theater with Cuban President Raul Castro in attendance, Obama used the crowning moment of his visit to extend a "hand of friendship." He came, he said, to "bury the last remnant" of the Cold War in the Americas.

But Obama also pressed hard for economic and political reforms and greater openness, speaking in a one-party state where little dissent is tolerated.

His speech was the high point of a trip made possible by his agreement with Castro in December 2014 to cast aside decades of hostility that began soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution, and work to normalize relations. Nonetheless, Obama minced no words in his calls for change.

"I believe citizens should be free to speak their minds without fear," Obama told the audience. "Voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections."

"Not everybody agrees with me on this, not everybody agrees with the American people on this but I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they're the rights of the American people, the Cuban people and people around the world," Obama said.

While he urged an end to the longstanding US economic embargo on the island, Obama added that "even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba."

The scene of the leader of the United States, the superpower to the north once routinely reviled by the Cuban government, standing on Cuban soil urging such changes would have been unthinkable before the two countries began their rapprochement.

For years, Cuban leaders told American presidents to mind their own business. Indeed, Castro has been careful to state since the detente that it does not mean Cuba plans to change its political system, and that while his government is open to discuss any issue, it has to be with mutual respect.

Tuesday's audience of more than a 1,000 people was made up of invited guests of the US and Cuban governments. They included officials and business people of both countries, visiting US lawmakers and members of Cuba's cultural elite.

Obama drew sustained applause when he reiterated his call for the US Congress to lift the embargo, which he called "an outdated burden on the Cuban people."

But the response was more muted to his appeal for greater political liberties, including freedom of expression and religion. Obama followed up those comments afterwards with a private meeting with dissidents.

Obama received a smattering of applause, however, when he called for economic reform to help attract more investment from US companies, many of which have remained wary.

At the same time, Obama sought to balance his critique with recognition of America's flaws and of Cuba's achievements in areas such as healthcare and education.

Obama, who abandoned a longtime US policy of trying to isolate Cuba, wants to make his shift irreversible by the time he leaves office in January and secure it as a piece of his foreign policy legacy.

But major obstacles remain to full normalization of ties, most notably the continuing US embargo and differences over human rights. The Republican-controlled Congress has so far rejected the Democratic president's call for a lifting of the embargo, although Obama has used his executive powers to ease some trade and travel restrictions on the island.

The president's critics at home have called his visit a premature reward to the Castro government. US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said on Tuesday the trip legitimizes what he called Castro's "tyrannical dictatorship."

With his words carried live by Cuba's state-run media, Obama sought to persuade ordinary Cubans that his new policy, including easing of trade and travel restrictions, was focused primarily on helping them to improve their lives.

Standing at a lectern flanked by US and Cuban flags, Obama laid out a hopeful vision of future US-Cuban relations and told Cubans "it's up to you" to take steps to change the country.

Some Cubans who listened to Obama's speech broadcast to their homes and cafes took Obama's criticism of the Cuban system in stride and were also impressed by his frank admission of America's own failings.

"He has been very honest in his statements," said Santiago Rodriguez, 78, in his home in central Havana. "It is not only the blockade (embargo) that has overwhelmed (us) for years. This was a message full of suggestions and positive criticism for the future of Cuba."

Castro, an army general who took over as president from his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008, was at the theater to greet Obama on arrival and sat in the audience for the speech. At the end, the Cuban leader lightly applauded from the balcony, then waved to the crowd.

At a news conference on Monday after they met for talks, Obama and Castro aired some of the old grievances between their countries, even as they sought to advance the diplomatic thaw.

Obama's administration is seeking to bridge the ideological divide by galvanizing the support of the Cuban public to help him pressure their government for reforms to the one-party system and state-run economy that so far have been slow to come. But it runs the risk of being accused of meddling by Havana.

After the speech, Obama met privately with about a dozen Cuban dissidents at the US Embassy. He noted that some of them had been detained and commended them for their courage. Among the participants was Berta Soler, leader of Ladies in White, a protest group.

Obama's much-anticipated address marked the first time a sitting US president's speech was broadcast to the Cuban people while on Cuban soil - though speeches by visiting popes have been carried live by state media.

Jimmy Carter, traveling to Cuba in 2002 as the first former US president to visit since the revolution, called for political freedoms in a speech broadcast on live television.

McKinsey and Co.: Coronavirus to have lasting impact on energy supply
McKinsey and Co.: Coronavirus to have lasting impact on energy supply
Persian Gulf Star Refinery to increase production
Persian Gulf Star Refinery to increase production
Buffett's Berkshire to buy Dominion Energy gas assets for $4 billion
Buffett's Berkshire to buy Dominion Energy gas assets for $4 billion
Loading Bars
Latest
Defense Ministry dismisses rumors on Russia's strike on Iran from Azerbaijan's air space
Turkey's export of ready-made clothing abroad down thanks to COVID-19
Kazakhstan's oil & gas company to buy filters via tender
Share of Yahoo, Yandex search engines in Azerbaijan down
Azerbaijan's most popular OS revealed
Turkmenistan to implement new programs to increase cotton production
Iran uses monitoring systems to prevent fuel smuggling
Newly-set FIG Congress dates to be decided on soon
Volume of dolomite transshipment through Turkish ports announced
Gold price decreases in Azerbaijan on July 6
Turkmen greenhouse plans to harvest large crop of bananas
Kazakhstan decreases export of locally-made goods to US
Russia reports more than 6,600 new coronavirus cases
Turkish export of grain, legumes to int'l markets in 1H2020 rises
Ford's China ventures extend auto sales recovery in June
Iran talks exports to Venezuela, hints at bartering option
Geostat: US ranks 7th among largest importers of Georgian products
McKinsey and Co.: Coronavirus to have lasting impact on energy supply
Turkmenistan sells base oil to UAE, Turkey, Afghanistan
Azerbaijani currency rates for July 6
Uzbek Central Bank announces newly-set exchange rates
Zarif defends Iran's deal with China with MPs during parliament session
Georgia sees increase in COVID-19 cases
Uzbek livestock farmers to obtain lands without auction
Armenia violates ceasefire with Azerbaijan 57 times
Iran's Gold and Jewelry Union talks gold, gold coin prices on local market
Israel launches spy satellite to keep a better eye on enemies
Healthcare official talks Iran's flaws in battling COVID-19
Export data of Iran's knowledge-based companies revealed
Turkmenistan's import of clothes from Turkey drops
Azerbaijan-Mexico five-month trade turnover increases
One fifth of German firms fear for their survival amid pandemic
Tesla mocks shortsellers with sale of red satin shorts
Kazakhstan's oil & gas company to buy spare parts via tender
AIIB to support Kazakhstan’s gov't in mitigating COVID-19 impact
Germany's confirmed coronavirus cases rise by 219 to 196,554
UK new car sales post smaller slump in June on annual basis
With nearly 700,000 coronavirus cases, India is third worst-hit country
Iran, Turkey in waiting mode on direct flights due to COVID-19 spread
Persian Gulf Star Refinery to increase production
Kyrgyzstan confirms 314 new COVID-19 cases
Georgia's main import articles from Azerbaijan revealed
Russia increases steel import from Turkey
BSTDB to focus on Azerbaijan's manufacturing, agribusiness sectors
Kazakhstan confirms 1,403 new coronavirus cases
Chinese mainland reports 4 new confirmed COVID-19 cases
Iran says sets up underground missile bases along southern coasts
Turkey spoiled traps set against it in east Med: Erdogan
Saudi Arabia announces Hajj health measures for domestic pilgrims
Charter flight from Amsterdam to Georgia carried out
Buffett's Berkshire to buy Dominion Energy gas assets for $4 billion
Coronavirus cases in Israel nudge 30,000
Trump to hold second campaign rally since pandemic began
Croatia's ruling HDZ wins parliamentary vote, majority within reach
Bolivia's health minister tests positive for COVID-19
Israel says strikes Hamas sites in retaliation for rocket attacks from Gaza
UK COVID-19 deaths rise to 44,220 as another 22 patients die
Iran calls for promotion of strategic ties with Venezuela
Bottas wins surreal F1 Austrian Grand Prix
Two dead, eight wounded in South Carolina nightclub shooting
Hundreds of scientists say coronavirus is airborne, ask WHO to revise recommendations
Abdullah Gul congratulates Elbasy on jubilee
Number of COVID-2019 cases across globe up by over 203,000 in past day - WHO
Iranian parliament investigated Natanz incident
Two rockets fired at Israel from Gaza Strip
COVID-19: 67 more people recovered in Kazakhstan
Israel's El Al to become leaner after government bailout
Azerbaijan discloses number of coronavirus tests
Hungarian Foreign Minister will visit Georgia tomorrow
Health minister urges caution as Turkey records 1,148 new coronavirus cases
Qatar reports 616 new COVID-19 cases, 99,799 in total
Azerbaijan increases import of cars from Turkey
Brunei retains high-income economy status
Afghan soldier, 4 militants killed in eastern provinces: gov't
Azerbaijan reports 523 new COVID-19 cases
WHO appreciates Sweden setting up commission to review handling of coronavirus crisis
Malta refuses to give disembarkation permission to rescued migrants
India to reopen Taj Mahal with social distancing, masks
Iranian mining companies see increase stock sales
Three new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Georgia
Kyrgyzstan's death toll from novel coronavirus climbs to 88
Iran reveals its COVID-19 data for July 5
EIB’s involvement in Azerbaijan focused on social and economic infrastructure
Tokyo confirms 111 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, NHK says
Facebook - leader among social networks in Azerbaijan
TOP-10 Azerbaijani private companies for non-oil export
Oil transportation via Batman Dortyol pipeline through Turkey up
Google Chrome's share in Azerbaijan's browser market grows
Iran launches second phase of Persian Gulf Star Refinery
Azerbaijani Bank BTB’s profit up in 2019
Mexico surpasses France in coronavirus death toll
Digitalization - driver of Azerbaijan’s economic growth
Croatia holds parliamentary elections amid COVID-19 resurgence
Reforms in Uzbekistan attract more Indian businesses
Armenia violates ceasefire with Azerbaijan 43 times
Georgia sees increase in Producer Price Index
1,452 new coronavirus cases detected in Kazakhstan for the past day
Rapper Kanye West announces U.S. presidential bid on Twitter
Zarif says will publish letters on how to activate dispute resolution mechanism
IFC talks development of solar photovoltaic parks in Uzbekistan
All news