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Cuban leader demands end to US embargo to renew ties

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CUBAN President Raul Castro laid out conditions Wednesday to normalize relations with the United States, demanding an end to the US embargo, the return of Guantanamo and Havana’s removal from a terror list.

Castro issued his demands a week after the highest-ranking US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark talks aimed at reopening embassies and renewing ties that broke off in 1961.

Cuba has long blamed the embargo for the communist island’s economic woes, with billboards in the country equating the decades-old economic sanctions to a “genocide.”

Speaking at a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Costa Rica, Castro said the “main problem” remains the “blockade” and that the road to ending it would be “long and hard.”

“The establishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process toward the normalization of bilateral relations, but this (normalization) won’t be possible as long as the blockade exists.”

US President Barack Obama called on Congress last week to put an end to the embargo, which was imposed in 1962 and has been a major source of tension between the Cold War-era rivals since then.

Earlier this month, Obama used his executive powers to ease travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent on the embargo.

But Castro said that the US leader should do more.

“He could use with resolve his broad executive powers to substantially change the scope of the blockade, even without the Congress decision,” he said.

Members of the 33-nation CELAC backed Castro’s call for the embargo to be lifted. The group, which does not include Washington, was created by the late Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

“Enough with the criminal blockade of Cuba,” Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said.

Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro added: “While it’s true that President Obama has taken a big step, there is a long path ahead.”

Castro and Obama simultaneously announced on December 17 their intention to end half a century of animosity and normalize ties that broke off in 1961.

Some US lawmakers have voiced concern about the rapprochement, especially those of Cuban-American origin, who say Obama conceded too much to Castro without securing guarantees of political change on the island.

“Some forces in the United States will try to abort this process that has started,” Castro warned.

After last week’s talks, US and Cuban officials said their meeting had been productive and cordial but that “profound differences” remain and that the road to normalization would be complex.

The United States has invited Cuba to hold another round of talks in the coming weeks in Washington.

In his speech in Belen, Costa Rica, Castro said that Havana also wants to be removed from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, which has blocked Cuba’s access to financial institutions.

In addition, he demanded the return of Guantanamo Bay, where the US navy has a base being used to jail terrorism suspects.

Another Cuban demand is changes to US policies that allow Cubans to stay in the United States if they step foot on US soil and gives them fast-track access to permanent residency.

Cuba says the US migration policies have caused an exodus and brain drain over the years.

Castro said his delegation outlined the conditions to US officials during last week’s historic meeting, and that more talks will take place to deal with these issues.

“We shared with the US president our willingness to advance toward the normalization of bilateral relations once diplomatic relations are restored, which implies taking mutual measures to improve the atmosphere between both countries,” he said.



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