14ymedio, Havana, 22 March 2016 – President of the United States Barack Obama called on his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro to not “to fear a threat from the United States [or] the different voices of the Cuban people.” In his speech from the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro in Havana, the president also said “voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.”
Obama insisted – he said in Spanish – that the future of the island “must be in the hands of the Cuban people,” and that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully.” However, he admitted that, “It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy. It’s often frustrating.” And he added that Washington does not want to impose its “political or economic system.”
“It is time for us to look forward to the future together,” said the president, “we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”
“I believe in the Cuban people,” Obama said, and added that the United States has, “not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.” He told the audience, “I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
The differences between our governments … are real and they are important… we also need to recognize how much we share… the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years.”
“I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz [a greeting of peace]” addressing the audience and President Raul Castro who had accompanied him into the theater. Obama began his speech quoting, in Spanish, José Martí’s poem, Cultivate a White Rose. The leader reviewed the history between the two countries and then said, “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.” He said that his father came to the United States from Kenya in the year of the Cuban Revolution and that he himself came into the world during the events of the Bay of Pigs. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” he said.
The president reviewed some of the similarities between the Cuban and the American people. “The United States and Cuba are like two brothers who have ben estranged,” he recalled before citing baseball, patriotism, pride, love of family and children as common values. “Todos somos Americanos [We are all Americans],” he concluded.
Then Obama also noted the differences between the two countries, starting with the economic system and continuing with the one-party system in Cuba versus the multi-party system in the United States. Despite this, he recalled “on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries.” He said since been the embassies had been reopened, and direct flights and mail service resumed, among many other things.
At this point, the US president called for an end to the embargo. “What the United States was doing was not working. The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them,” he said. Obama took advantage of the opportunity to call for relaxing the measures to support essential changes on the island. ” But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.”
Barack Obama also spoke of Cubans living in the United States. ” so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation. They love Cuba. A part of them still considers this their true home,” he said. For them, the process of restoration of relations is not a political issue, “This is about family.”
The president directed himself to young people, asking that they look to the future with hope, and he commented on the importance of expanding access to internet on the island. ” I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people. That’s your strength,” he added.
He also referred, at the international level, to the bombings this Tuesday in Brussels and to the peace process between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) observed Monday by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana was attended by about a thousand people, most of them invited by the United States government, among whom was the ballerina Alicia Alonso. The speech was the first event of the day on his calendar, which will continue with a meeting with representatives of independent civil society and dissidents in the United States Embassy, and a friendly baseball game between Cuba’s national team of Cuba and the Tampa Bay Rays.