President Obama welcomed criticism from President Raul Castro on issues in the United State, particularly on race relations and economic inequality.
“President Castro has also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people in poverty and inequality and race relations and we welcome that constructive dialogue as well,” Obama says. “Because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.”
Obama described the meeting with Castro earlier today as a “frank and candid” particularly on issues of human rights, but suggested that America has its own problems as well.
“I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels we’re falling short because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well,” he said.
Castro also demanded that the United States end the trade embargo with Cuba and return the territory from Guantanamo Bay before the two countries could expect full diplomatic relationships.
“The blockade stands as the most important obstacle. That’s why its removal will be of the essence to normalize bilateral relations,” Castro said. “In order to move forward towards normalization, it will also be necessary to return the territory illegally occupied by the naval base.”
Obama blamed Congress for not doing enough to end the Cuban trade embargo, although he insisted there were still ways to be “flexible” under the existing law.
“Frankly, Congress is not as productive as I would like during presidential election years,” he said.