HAVANA, March 21, 2016 — President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro held a joint press conference today, focusing on the economic embargo that America has maintained against Cuba for the last 54 years. Both leaders took questions from reporters following statements.
Obama spoke following a long meeting with Castro at the Palace of the Revolution in Old Havana.
Castro acknowledged the “profound differences” with the United States on human rights. He blasted the U.S. government for not providing everyone with health care. “We find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to health care,” Castro said.
President Obama acknowledged the embargo and said it will end. “The list of things we can do administratively is growing shorter,” he said, adding that “for more than half a century, the sight of a U.S. president here in Havana would have been unimaginable.”
Castro told the press that more could be done if the U.S. blockade were removed.
During the address, President Obama said the major differences between the two countries include human rights and political freedom. Obama has made a priority of seeking more help for large and small businesses — including those owned the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have taken advantage of incremental economic opportunities and become entrepreneurs.
Obama’s political opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, who is of Cuban heritage, have criticized Obama for not being more outspoken about the plight of Cuban dissidents.
The less controversial stops in Obama itinerary this week include a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, a visit with Havana’s archbishop and events with other members of Cuban society.
The vast differences between the Obama administration and the Castro regime were evident Sunday as Havana hurried to prepare for the U.S. president’s arrival. As Obama was en route, scores of anti-Castro dissidents from the group Ladies in White were arrested and detained after their weekly protest in Havana.
The presidential trip to Havana is the culmination of a three-year effort to restore ties to the island, which sits 90 miles from Key West, Florida, but has long been off-limits for most American visitors. For decades, the island was regarded as a Cold War adversary, a forbidden place run by bearded strongmen that residents fled on makeshift rafts.