Raul Castro: US must return Guantanamo for normal relations
BY JAVIER CORDOBA AND MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/29/2015 3:58 AM 01/29/2015 3:58 AM
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States
return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade
embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two
nations re-establish normal relations.
Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean
States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic
relations but “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic
rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense.”
Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they
would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening
embassies in each other’s countries. The two governments held
negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of
embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.
Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed
to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans
who don’t depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.
The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel,
remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the
United States’ unaltered goal of reforming Cuba’s single-party political
system and centrally planned economy.
Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing
its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro’s
government has increasingly linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a
set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for
Cuban dissidents and Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors
On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands,
saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal
relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear
highly unlikely in the near future.
The U.S. established the military base in 1903, and the current Cuban
government has been demanding the land’s return since the 1959
revolution that brought it to power. Cuba also wants the U.S. to pay
hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo.
“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process
of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while
the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory
illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Castro said.
He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and
television broadcasts and deliver “just compensation to our people for
the human and economic damage that they’re suffered.”
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for
comment on Castro’s remarks.
Castro’s call for an end to the U.S. embargo drew support at the summit
from the presidents of Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua and
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also praised the effort by the
leaders of Cuba and the U.S. to improve relations. “The two heads of
state deserve our recognition for the decision they made — beneficial
for Cubans and Americans, but, most of all, for the entire continent,”
John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last
year, said that the tone of Cuba’s recent remarks didn’t mean it would
be harder than expected to reach a deal on short-term goals like
reopening full embassies in Havana and Washington.
In fact, he said, the comments by Castro and high-ranking diplomats may
indicate the pressure Cuba’s government is feeling to strike a deal as
Cubans’ hopes for better living conditions rise in the wake of Obama’s
“There is this huge expectation of change and this expectation has been
set off by the president’s announcement,” Caulfield said. The Cuban
government feels “the constant need to tell their people nothing’s going
to change … the more the Cubans feel obligated to defend the status
quo and to say that’s nothing going to change, the more pressure it
indicates to me is on them to make these changes, partly on the economic
side but I would also say on the political side.”