(Photo Obtained from the Associated Press)
When asked about political prisoners, Castro had to say: “Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention the list. What political prisoners?” Humans rights groups quickly produced rosters of people who said they had been imprisoned for challenging the Cuban government and distributed them through social media. According to the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, 79 are still behind bars—40 of which are being held for peaceful protest. In response, however, Castro rebuked the United States for not providing universal health care, equal education, and equal pay; therefore, “it’s not right to ask...about political prisoners.” In response to a second question concerning humans rights, Castro added, “How many countries comply with all 61 human rights? Do you know? I do. None. None.”
Obama also assured Castro that the United States had no intentions to dictate Cuba’s future: “I affirm that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation. Cuba is sovereign and rightly has great pride, and the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.” Though Obama did not respond to Castro’s demands for Guantanamo to be returned to Cuba, he was optimistic about the end of the embargo: “The embargo’s going to end. When, I can’t be entirely sure.” He also said that direct flights to Cuba would begin this year, and regular tourism could happen very soon.
Castro summarized the significance of the meeting and expressed hope for continuing improving relations with the United States: “We agree that a long and complex path still lies ahead. What is most important is that we have started taking the first steps to build a new type of relationship, one that has never existed between Cuba and the United States.
Though this historic meeting perhaps marks the end of over 80 years of tension, lingering sentiments revealed impediments to the end of the thaw. It seems that both leaders are taking steps to end the decades-long conflict, but it may still be awhile before total normalization, especially concerning humans rights issues and Gitmo.
(Interesting Side-Comment: When a reporter asked Castro if he favored the election of Trump or Clinton, Castro simply smiled and said, “I cannot vote in the United States.”)
To what extent can we trust Castro’s promise to release political prisoners, given his reluctance to address the issue?
What if the U.S. and Cuba cannot come to agreement on issues of human rights? Then what?