Castro Opens Up in Rare Cuba Presser

Cuban president answers question about political prisoners
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2016 4:10 PM CDT
Castro Opens Up in Rare Cuba Presser
Cuban President Raul Castro checks his watch near the end of a joint news conference with President Barack Obama at the Palace of the Revolution, Monday, March 21, 2016 in Havana, Cuba.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama made history in Cuba today by getting Cuban President Raul Castro to field questions from reporters—inspiring an exchange over democracy and human rights that apparently left Cubans stunned. The White House negotiated to the last minute to make the press conference happen, the AP reports. Among the more memorable quotes:

  • "Did you ask if we had political prisoners? Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately," said Castro, per CNN. He added later, "It's not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general."
  • "We have decades of profound differences," said Obama. "I told President Castro that we are moving forward and not looking backwards. We will continue to stand up for basic principles that we believe in."
  • "Much more could be done [in restoring ties between the two nations] if the US blockade could be lifted," said Castro. "The most recent measures adopted by his administration are positive but insufficient."
  • Castro accused the US of failing in certain areas, including health care and equal pay for women. "I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we're falling short," said Obama. "Because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well."
  • "I think this is enough," Castro said, ending the news conference after answering several questions.

Cubans were shocked to see Castro discuss human rights in the rare presser, the AP reports. "This is pure history and I never thought I'd see something like this," says engineer Marlene Pino, 47. "It's difficult to quickly assimilate what's happening here." (Read more Cuba stories.)

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