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Obama calls for democracy, end of arbitrary detentions in Cuba

Obama calls for democracy, end of arbitrary detentions in Cuba

Obama encourages Cuba to embrace democracy
Speaks out against arbitrary detentions
Sends message to Europe in wake of terror attack


Barack Obama encouraged Cubans to embrace democracy and its
leaders to tolerate dissent and criticism, during a much-anticipated and
nationally televised speech Tuesday that highlighted how much the
longtime foes have in common.

“Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here, we had to
a great distance, over barriers of history and ideology, barriers of
pain and separation,” Obama said. “I have come here to bury the last
remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”

During the lengthy speech, Obama talked about the cultural and
historical ties the nations share, saying that they transcended politics.

And while he praised the island’s commitment to healthcare and
, he said the ruling party needs to listen to its people.

“I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to
organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,”
he said. “And that the rule of law should not include arbitrary
detentions of people who exercise those rights.”

“And yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in
free and democratic elections,” he added.

Obama reassured the public, which included President Raúl Castro and his
cabinet, that the United States was not interested in imposing its
ideals or form of government on the island. But he said listening to
criticism and dissent was the best way for any nation to grow.

He acknowledged that Cuba has often criticized the United States for its
economic inequality, the death penalty, racial discrimination and wars

“But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand,” he said. “I
welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good. It’s healthy. I’m not
afraid of it.”

“We do have too much money in American politics,” he added. “But in
America, it’s still possible for somebody like me, a child who was
raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of
money, to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.”

Castro sat through most of the speech stone-faced, listening to it
through a translator, but broke into applause when Obama mentioned
ending the half-century economic .

The speech comes at the tail end of a historic, three-day visit to Cuba,
which was being overshadowed by attacks in Brussels, ..

“We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally,
Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible,” Obama said
at the beginning of his speech. “And this is yet another reminder that
the world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality or
race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”

Despite the attacks, it appears the White House will continue with its
planned schedule on the island. Obama is expected to meet with members
of Cuba’s civil society Tuesday afternoon, including dissidents who are
often harassed by the government. Later, Obama and the first family will
be taking in an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and
the Cuban national team before departing from José Martí International
on their way to Buenos Aires for the next leg of their journey.

Earlier in the day, at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso where
Obama spoke, the sound system was playing “Hasta Siempre, Comandante” —
a tune about Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara — and other hits from the revolution.

Members of Congress on the presidential delegation to Cuba began filing
into the theater at about 9:30 a.m. They included Sens. Jeff Flake,
R-Ariz., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Amy Klobuchar, D-Mn., Dick Durbin, D-Il.
and Dean Heller, R-Nevada, along with Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen and
Charlie Rangel.

Among those watching Obama’s speech from the center of the first
balcony: The vice president of Cuba and heir apparent to Castro, Miguel
Díaz-Canel; Politburo member Esteban Lazo; Foreign Trade Minister
Rodrigo Malmierca and other high-ranking Cuban officials

Florida Rep. Kathy Castor, who represents the Tampa Bay area, came with
a stash of Tampa Bay Rays baseball caps to hand out ahead of this
afternoon’s baseball game between the Rays and the Cuban national team.

Swords into Plowshares

The last time a U.S. president visited Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
He delivered the keynote address at the Pan-American Conference from the
same stage used Tuesday. Coolidge urged the nations of the Western
Hemisphere to embrace peace and value the principles of and
democracy. The time had come to “beat our swords into plowshares,” he said.

“The smallest and the weakest speak here with the same authority as the
largest and the most powerful,” Coolidge said in that speech. “You are
continuing to strike a new note in international gatherings by
maintaining a forum in which not the selfish interests of a few but the
general welfare of all will be considered.”

Obama spoke on a stage flanked by red theater curtains, with reliefs in
gold and white of the comedy and drama masks flanking each side of the
stage. There is seating on the ground floor and four floors of balcony

The backdrop for the speech included a large Cuban and an American flag,
with more flags on stanchions on stage.

The grand neo-baroque building dates to 1838 and was initially built to
host the Galician Center of Havana. It was restored to its current glory
in 2015 after three years of work.

Source: Obama calls for democracy, end of arbitrary detentions in Cuba |
Miami Herald –

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