Mon | Jul 23, 2018

Obama, Castro vow new path forward

Published:Tuesday | March 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Cuba's President Raul Casro, left, walks with US President Barack Obama, as they inspect the guard in Revolution Palace.
US First Lady Michelle Obama greets Cuban girls as she arrives for a Let Girls Learn roundtable at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, in Havana, Cuba, yesterday.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during their meeting at the Palace of the Revolution, yesterday.


President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raùl Castro tussled yesterday over differences on human rights and democracy but pledged to keep working on a new path forward between their two countries in an stunning diplomatic display.

Obama, midway through his history-making trip to Cuba, succeeded in getting Cuba's leader to submit to questioning by reporters, a routine occurrence for US presidents but an anomaly in a communist country where the media are tightly controlled. Though Castro's answers were far from forthcoming, the mere occurrence of the news conference was significant in that way. Asked by an American television reporter about political prisoners in Cuba, Castro seemed oblivious, first saying he couldn't hear the question, then asking whether it was directed to him or Obama. Eventually he pushed back, saying if the journalist could offer up names of anyone allegedly imprisoned, "they will be released before tonight ends".

"What political prisoners? Give me a name or names," Castro said. He added later, "It's not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general."

After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the news conference abruptly, declaring, "I think this is enough."

Cuba is criticised for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of political prisoners as part of its deal to normalise relations with the US, and Amnesty International said in its 2015-2016 report that it knew of no prisoners of conscience in Cuba.