The people of Cuba received unprecedented news today, though they were unable to hear of the United States’ reforms in diplomacy with Cuba from President Barack Obama. Instead, they were treated to an address by dictator Raúl Castro, in which he celebrated that the reforms will lead to “sustainable socialism” and urged President Obama to lift the embargo entirely through executive action.
Castro spoke simultaneously to the Cuban people as President Obama delivered his remarks, explaining the release of both USAID worker Alan Gross— who had been subjected to various abuses in Cuban prison for attempting to connect Cuban Jews to the Internet– and three Cuban spies convicted of crimes in the United States. He described the release of the three spies as a promise kept by “Comrade Fidel” and addressed them by their first names.
For Castro, he explained, the new diplomatic relations were a sign that Cuba can “resolve differences through negotiations without renouncing to even one of our principles.” He heralded “the heroic cuban people” for “remain[ing] loyal to our ideals of independence and social justice.” The new reforms, he continued, would help in “the actualization of our economic model to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism.”
Castro noted that “this decision by President Obama deserves the respect and recognition of our people,” without indicating any specific measure Cuba would taken in removing its economic sanctions and limits on the American people. Instead, he placed the blame squarely on President Obama’s shoulders, and urged unilateral executive action:
The economic, commercial, and financial blockade that provokes enormous human and economic damage to our nation must cease. Even though the measures of the blockade have been made by law, the President of the United States can modify their application through his executive powers. We propose to the United States government to adopt mutual measures to improve the bilateral climate and advance towards normalization of links between our countries, based on the principles of the international rights and the UN Charter.
Castro only expressed a “will to dialogue” about both economics and human rights, demanding the United States “remove obstructions to the families of both nations regarding trips, direct postal service, and telecommunications.” He did not discuss his own unilateral executive actions in September severely limiting travel by Cuban Americans into the island and limiting the free flow of necessary goods from Cuban Americans to the needy on the island.
The White House has not responded to the request for executive action. Watch Castro’s full comments (in Spanish) below: