Cuban President Raul Castro has reportedly told a Cuban dissidents group scheduled to meet with President Obama during his trip to Havana to skip the meeting.
“The threatening and detention of government critics prior to visits by foreign leaders has been standard practice in Cuba for years,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas section for Human Rights Watch.
President Obama landed in Cuba on Sunday afternoon and is the first American President to visit the island nation in nearly a century.
“I’ve met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention and that’s something that I generally have to speak on because I hear from them directly and I know what it means for them,” Obama said, in answering a question from Cuban-American reporter Jim Acosta about the state of human rights in Cuba, during a joint press-conference between the two leaders.
Castro was agitated at this question on Cuban dissidents and fired back against the President and Acosta.
“What political prisoners? Give me a name, or names, or after this meeting is over you can give me a list of political prisoners and if we have those political prisoners they will be released before tonight ends,” said Castro.
On Monday, President Obama was critical of Cuba’s stance on human rights, but Raul Castro was equally critical of what he saw as failings of the United States.
“We defend human rights, in our view civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, inter-dependent and universal,” Mr Castro said. “Actually we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to healthcare, education, social security, food provision and development.”
Despite the contention over Cuba’s human rights record, President Obama promised that the U.S. embargo of Cuba would end, but did not specify a timeline. The President condemned the embargo as a failed 50-year-0ld policy in his promise to see it lifted.
“The reason is what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people,” he said.
[LA Times] [BBC] [ABC News]