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Raul Castro lists demands ahead of restoring US ties

AFP

Cuban President Raul Castro set out conditions Wednesday before moves to normalise relations with the United States would go ahead, demanding an end to the US embargo, the return of Guantanamo Bay and the removal of Havana from a terror blacklist.

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Cuba has long blamed the decades-long US embargo for the communist island's economic woes, with billboards in the country equating the sanctions to a "genocide".

Speaking at a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Belen, Costa Rica, Castro said Wednesday that Cuba's "main problem" remains the US "blockade" and that improved relations were not an option without an end to them.

"The establishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process towards the normalisation of bilateral relations, but this won't be possible as long as the blockade exists," he said.

Castro also said that Havana wants to be removed from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, which has blocked Cuba's access to financial institutions.

He also demanded the return of Guantanamo Bay, which the US Navy has been renting from Cuba and which houses a controversial detention centre for terrorism suspects.

The highest-ranking US delegation to Havana in 35 years and Cuban officials held landmark talks last week aimed at reopening embassies and renewing ties that broke off in 1961. Castro said his delegation outlined these conditions to US officials during the meeting and that more talks are planned.

"We shared with the US president our willingness to advance towards the normalisation of bilateral relations once diplomatic relations are restored, which implies taking mutual measures to improve the atmosphere between both countries," Castro said.

US President Barack Obama called on Congress last week to put an end to the embargo, which was imposed in 1962 and has been a major source of tension between the Cold War-era rivals since then.

Earlier this month, Obama used his executive powers to ease travel and trade restrictions with Havana, putting a dent in the embargo.

But Castro said that the US leader should do more.

"He could use with resolve his broad executive powers to substantially change the scope of the blockade, even without a Congressional decision," he said.

Members of the 33-nation CELAC backed Castro's call for the embargo to be lifted.

Another Cuban demand is changes to US policies that allow Cubans to stay in the United States if they step foot on US soil and gives them fast-track access to permanent residency.

Cuba says US migration policies have caused an exodus and a brain drain in the country over the years.

'Profound differences'

Castro and Obama simultaneously announced on December 17 their intention to end half a century of animosity and normalise ties that broke off in 1961.

Some US lawmakers have voiced concern about the rapprochement, especially those of Cuban-American origin, who say Obama conceded too much to Castro without securing guarantees of political change on the island.

"Some forces in the United States will try to abort this process that has started," Castro warned.

After last week's talks, US and Cuban officials said their meeting had been productive and cordial but that "profound differences" remain and that the road to normalisation would be complex.

The United States has invited Cuba to hold another round of talks in the coming weeks in Washington.

Castro has also called on the United States to respect Cuba's political choices and said Havana had no intention of abandoning its communist principles.

“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro said in December.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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