Cuba ready for new relationship with US: Raul Castro

Havana, Dec 19 (IANS) Cuban President Raul Castro confirmed his government’s “complete inclination” to continue building a brand new relationship with the US, while insisting that Washington’s economic embargo is the “principal obstacle” to full normalisation.

Castro on Friday reflected on US-Cuba ties in a speech broadcast one year and a day after he and President Barack Obama announced the rapprochement in simultaneous addresses, Xinhua reported.

Though 12 months of “professional and respectful dialogue” have led to the re-opening of embassies after a rupture of over 50 years and to a pair of face-to-face encounters between the two presidents, “we have not advanced in issues that are essential for Cuba,” such as the end of the embargo, Castro said.

“That policy continues in force,” he said, citing “the financial persecution of Cuba’s legitimate transactions and the extraterritorial effects of the blockade, which cause our people harm and privations and is the principal obstacle to the development of the Cuban economy.”

He said that while Obama has asked Congress to scrap the 53-year-old embargo and has taken some unilateral steps to ease trade and travel restriction, the US president has the authority to do more to “substantially modify the application of the blockade.”

Besides the end of the embargo, full normalisation would require the return to Cuban sovereignty of the US Navy base in Guantanamo Bay and the reversal of policies that Havana says encourage unauthorised emigration from the island.

Raul Castro, who came to power in 2006 when older brother Fidel fell gravely ill, said that even full normalisation with the US will not lead to the abandonment of the “principles and ideals for which so many Cubans have struggled for the last half-century.”

Cuba, he said, “will remain immersed in the process of transformations to modernise its economic and social model… to increase the wellbeing of the population and bolster the achievements of the socialist revolution.”

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