Obama Meets With Raul Castro in First Presidential Visit to Cuba in 88 Years
The two heads of state shook hands warmly as a Cuban military band played the respective national anthems of both countries.
Obama and Castro had just held discussions on a range of issues in private, the specifics of which Castro--brother of Fidel--discussed briefly in a speech that followed their meeting.
Castro noted that direct postal exchanges have resumed between the two nations. He also noted that Cuba and the U.S. have signed an agreement to resume commercial flights connecting the countries.
Castro then addressed one of several elephants in the room: the American economic embargo, which remains in place despite the improved relations.
Castro called improved relations "positive but insufficient" and came close to criticizing America by listing issues on which the Communist nation believes it differs, including healthcare rights, human rights and economic inequality.
In a jab at the U.S., the Cuban leader called it "inconceivable" that a government might fail to ensure health care, education, food and social security for all its people.
As he took the podium, Obama briefly recognized Castro's criticism before quickly changing the subject to an exhaustive list of what he believes are positive developments in the changing relations between the two countries.
While also noting the American dedication to free market and democratic ideals, Obama said America will work with Cuba to increase economic opportunities in the country.
President Obama echoed Castro by listing areas where their two countries have agreed to work together in the future, including medical care, the environment, national security and on stopping international drug traffickers.
Following the speeches, the leaders both unexpectedly took questions, something Castro does not usually do.
Most questions centered on human rights, an issue on which the two countries have a deep divide, which appeared to annoy Castro.
When one reporter asked a pointed question about political prisoners in Cuba, the Communist leader seemed to have had enough.
“Give me a list of political prisoners and I will release them,” Castro said before removing his translation headphones and declaring the event over.
Obama is in Cuba with the first lady and both their teen daughters. Still on the agenda is a baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.