Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Blockade is the Most Serious Obstacle to Our Economic Development and the Welfare of the Cuban People
Full text of statement to the press by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, at the Palace of the Revolution on March 21, 2016, “Year 58 of the Revolution” .

Granma |
March 24, 2016 11:03:18

Good afternoon.
Mr. President Barack Obama:

We are pleased to welcome the first visit by a U.S. president to our country in 88 years.

We hope that during your brief stay on the island you will be able to appreciate the hospitality of the Cuban people, who have never harbored feelings of animosity toward the American people, to whom we are united by historical, cultural and emotional ties.

Your visit is an important step in the process toward the improvement of bilateral relations, which we hope will help advance further progress in our ties, to the benefit of both nations and the region.

We have just held a constructive and useful meeting, which continues on from the previous two we held in Panama and New York.

We note that in the 15 months since we announced the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations we have achieved concrete results.

We resumed direct postal mail and signed an agreement to reestablish regular flights.

We have expanded cooperation in areas of mutual interest. We signed two memorandums of understanding on environmental protection and marine areas, and another to improve the safety of maritime navigation. Today another will be signed on cooperation in agriculture.

Currently, another group of bilateral instruments for cooperation in areas such as combating drug trafficking, security of trade and travelers, and health are being negotiated. On the latter, we have agreed to intensify cooperation in the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases such as the Zika virus and chronic non-communicable diseases, including cancer. This cooperation is beneficial not only to Cuba and the United States, but also to our hemisphere.

Since the decisions taken by President Obama to modify the application of some aspects of the blockade, Cuban companies and their U.S. counterparts have been working to identify potential trade operations within the still restrictive framework of the regulations in force.

Some have been concretized, particularly in the area of telecommunications, an area in which our country has a program based on its development priorities and the necessary technological sovereignty to ensure the appropriate use of these to serve national interests.

Negotiations are also advancing on the purchase of medicines, medical equipment and equipment for power generation and environmental protection, among others.

Much more could be done if the U.S. blockade was lifted.

We recognize the position of President Obama and his government against the blockade and the repeated calls he has made on Congress to eliminate it.

The latest measures adopted by his government are positive, but not sufficient. I discussed with the President other steps we believe can be taken to eliminate restrictions still in force and make an important contribution to the dismantling of the blockade.

This is essential, because the blockade remains in force and has dissuasive components and intimidating effects of extraterritorial reach, on which I set forth some examples to the President to demonstrate the negative consequences for Cuba and other states.

The blockade is the most serious obstacle to our economic development and the welfare of the Cuban people. Therefore, its elimination will be essential to normalize bilateral relations. It will also be beneficial to Cuban migrants, who want the best for their families and their country.

To advance toward normalization, it will also be necessary that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base be returned.

Both issues, constituting the main obstacles, were addressed, once again, in the editorial published on March 9 in the official voice of the Communist Party of Cuba (Granma) and, just four days ago at the press conference by our Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, widely reported by the press.

Similarly, other policies should be abolished to allow for normal relations between Cuba and the United States. It should not be expected that for this the Cuban people must renounce the destiny they have freely and sovereignly chosen and for which they have made immense sacrifices.

We also discussed international issues, particularly those that could affect regional peace and stability.

Specifically, I had planned to address, and there was no time to conclude this, but I use this occasion, to express our concern about the encouragement destabilization in Venezuela, which is counterproductive to the atmosphere on the continent.

Similarly, we discussed the progress of the peace process in Colombia and the efforts to end this conflict.

There are profound differences between our countries which will not disappear, as we have different views on many issues, such as political models, democracy, the exercise of human rights, social justice, international relations, peace and global stability.

We defend human rights. We consider civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to be indivisible, interdependent and universal. We can not comprehend that a government does not defend and guarantee the right to health, education, social security, food and development, to equal pay for equal work and the rights of children. We oppose political manipulation and double standards on human rights.

Cuba has much to say and to show on this subject and therefore I reiterated to the President our willingness to continue the dialogue we have begun.

On December 17, 2014, when we announced the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, I said: “We must learn the art of living, in a civilized manner, with our differences”.

On July 15, 2015, before our parliament I noted: “Changing everything which must be changed is the sovereign and exclusive domain of Cubans. The Revolutionary Government is willing to advance in the normalization of relations, convinced that the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, to our mutual benefit, beyond the differences we have and certainly will have, thus contributing to peace, security, stability, development and equity in our continent and the world”.

Today I reaffirm that we must practice the art of civilized coexistence, which means accepting and respecting differences and not making them the center of our relationship, but rather promoting ties that benefit both countries and peoples, and concentrating on what brings us closer rather than what separates us.

We agree that a long and complex road lies ahead. But the important thing is that we have begun to take steps to build a new type of relationship, the likes of which has ever existed between Cuba and the United States.

Destroying a bridge is easy and requires little time. To solidly rebuild one is a much longer and difficult task.

After four failed attempts, as a symbol of willpower and perseverance, on September 2, 2013, U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad managed to swim across the Florida Straits, without a shark cage.

For this feat, overcoming the distance that geographically separates our countries, on August 30, 2014, to the tune of the national anthems of Cuba and the United States, she was presented with the Order of Sporting Merit, awarded by the Cuban Council of State.

This accomplishment contains a strong message, it should serve us as an example for bilateral relations, as it confirms that if she could, then we too can.

I reiterate our thanks to President Obama for his visit and the willingness of the government of Cuba to continue moving forward in the coming months for the benefit of our peoples and countries.

Thank you.

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