(Council of State transcript / GI translation)
-We turn now to a brief question and answer session. I ask journalists to make use of the microphones placed in the room.
A first question to President Barack Obama.
First question, Jim Acosta.
Jim Acosta (CNN).-Thank you, President Castro, for your hospitality in Havana. And thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, in your meeting with President Castro, what words did you use to urge him to pursue democratic reforms and expand human rights here in Cuba? Will you invite President Castro to the White House? We know he’s been to New York. And why did you not meet with Fidel Castro?
And, President Castro, my father is Cuban. He left for the United States when he was young. Do you see a new and democratic path for your country? And why do you have Cuban political prisoners? Why don’t you release them? And one more question, who do you prefer - Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Thank you.
Barack Obama.- Well, as I think we both indicated, we had a very fruitful conversation around issues of democracy and human rights. Our starting point is that we have two different systems, two different systems of government, two different economies. And we have decades of profound differences, both bilaterally and internationally. What I have said to President Castro is that we are moving forward and not looking backwards; that we don’t view Cuba as a threat to the United States. I hope that my visit here indicates the degree to which we're setting a new chapter in Cuban-American relations. But as is true with countries around the world where we have normalized relations, we will continue to stand up for basic principles that we believe in.
America believes in democracy. We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values, but are universal values. They may not express themselves exactly in the same way in every country, they may not be enshrined in the founding documents or constitutions of every country the same way, or protected legally in exactly the same ways, but the impulse -- the human impulse towards freedom, the freedom that José Martí talked about, we think is a universal longing.
President Castro I think has pointed out that, in his view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age - that those things are human rights, as well. I personally would not disagree with him. But it doesn’t detract from some of these other concerns. And the goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue and hopefully that we can learn from each other. It does not mean that it has to be the only issue we talk about. Economics, health, scientific exchanges, international cooperation on issues of regional as well as global import are also important. But this is something that we are going to stay on.
And I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we're falling short because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion, as well.
Here’s the one thing I do know is that when I talk to Cuban Americans -- and, Jim, you’re second generation, and so I think I speak not for you directly, but for many that I talk to around the United States -- I think there is enormous hope that there can be reconciliation. And the bridge that President Castro discussed can be built between the Cuban American community and Cubans here. There are family ties and cultural ties that are so strong. And I think everyone would benefit from those ties being reestablished.
One of the impediments to strengthening those ties is these disagreements around human rights and democracy. And to the extent that we can have a good conversation about that and to actually make progress, that, I think, will allow us to see the full flowering of a relationship that is possible. In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant. And this is not unique to U.S.-Cuban relations. It’s one that, as you know, I have conversations with when we go to bilateral meetings with some of our very close allies, as well as countries that we don’t have as close of a relationship to. But I think it is something that matters.
And I’ve met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention, and that’s something that I generally have to speak out on because I hear from them directly and I know what it means for them.
Raúl Castro.- I was asking if his question was directed to me or to President Obama, as I didn’t get all of the first part, but I thought I heard you speak of political prisoners.
Jim Acosta.- The second question was for you.
Raúl Castro.- For him or for me?
Jim Acosta.- For you, Mr. President Castro.
Raúl Castro.- What did you say about political prisoners? What was the specific question about political prisoners?
Whether there are political prisoners? Did you ask if we had political prisoners?
Jim Acosta.- Whether your country has Cuban political prisoners and why you don’t release them?
Raúl Castro.- Okay, this is the only question I'll allow.Give me the list of political prisoners right now to be released. Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. Or once this meeting is over, you can give me a list of prisoners and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight. Next question.
Jim Acosta.- Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, President Castro?
Raúl Castro.-Well, I still cannot vote in the United States (Laughter).
Moderator.- A question for President Raúl, Boris.
Boris Fuentes (Televisión Cubana).-President Raúl Castro, you have repeatedly stated, and today once again, that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner despite our differences. Could you expand on this concept, given this historical moment that Cuba is living?
I also have a brief question for President Barack Obama. President Obama, could the U.S. government take further steps to eliminate the U.S. blockade during your administration, so that another generation of Cubans will not have to suffer under this economic and financial blockade against Cuba?
Raúl Castro.- Please repeat your question as I couldn’t hear it properly.
Boris Fuentes.- You have said repeatedly, and today once again, that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner despite our differences.
Raúl Castro.- Well, President Obama himself has referred to that. We have taken the first steps, plenty given they are the first steps, and we must continue taking these steps; and I’m sure that we will be able to peacefully coexist in an environment of mutual cooperation, as we are already doing in certain areas, for the benefit of both countries, and in benefit of other countries, as we have already done, modestly, in Haiti, with cholera and in Africa with Ebola, as the President mentioned. This is the future of mankind if we want to save the humans species, while the level of water increases and the island becomes smaller.
You are asking me many questions. I think questions should be directed to President Obama.
Barack Obama.- So we have administratively already made a number of modifications on the embargo. I referred to a number of them in my opening statement. And we’ve actually been fairly aggressive in exercising as much flexibility as we can, given that the law putting the embargo in place has not been repealed by Congress. There may be some technical aspects of the embargo that we can still make adjustments on, depending on problems as they arise. So, for example, the issue around the dollar and the need to make modifications in terms of how the embargo was implemented to encourage, rather than discourage reforms that the Cuban government itself is willing to engage in and to facilitate greater trade and commerce, that is something that grew out of the dialogue between our governments, and we have made appropriate adjustments to it.
It will take some time for commercial banks to understand the new rules, but we actually think that this is an area where we can improve current circumstances. But I’ll be honest with you that the list of things that we can do administratively is growing shorter, and the bulk of changes that have to be made with respect to the embargo are now going to rely on Congress making changes. I’ve been very clear about the interests in getting that done before I leave.
Frankly, Congress is not as productive as I would like during a presidential election year. But the fact that we have such a large congressional delegation with Democrats and Republicans with us is an indication that there is growing interest inside of Congress for lifting the embargo. As I just indicated in my earlier answer, how quickly that happens will, in part, depend on whether we can bridge some of our differences around human rights issues. And that's why the dialogue I think is so important. It sends a signal that at least there’s engagement between the two countries on these matters. Now, I promised the President I would take one more question. Andrea Mitchell of NBC.
Andrea Mitchell (NBC).- Thank you, Mr. President.
Do you feel, after your meeting today, that you have made enough progress to even accelerate the pace and that the Cuban government is able to move quickly enough so that the changes that you have made through these technical adjustments to the embargo will be permanent and cannot be reversed by the next President?
And what advice have you given to President Castro about the ability of having the embargo lifted? Because he has said again today this is a continuous issue which is blocking progress. You said the conversations about human rights were frank and candid and that you want to move forward. But even as you were arriving, there were dramatic arrests of the Ladies in White, during peaceful protests. What signal does that send? Can you have civilized coexistence while at the same time you have such profound disagreements about the very definitions of what human rights means?
And for President Castro.
For many of us, it's remarkable to hear you speak about all these subjects. Can you tell us what you see in the future? President Obama has nine months remaining in office. You have said you would be stepping down in 2018. What is the future of our nations, given the different definitions and the different interpretations of issues such as democracy and human rights?
Barack Obama.- Well, Andrea, the embargo is going to end. When, I can't be entirely sure, but I believe it will end. And the path that we're on will continue beyond my administration. The reason is logic. The reason is that what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people. And as I said when we made the announcement about normalization of relations, if you keep on doing something over and over again for 50 years and it doesn’t work, it might make sense to try something new. And that's what we've done.
And the fact that there has been strong support not just inside of Congress, not just among the American people, but also among the Cuban people indicates that this is a process that should and will continue. Having said that, lifting the embargo requires the votes of a majority in Congress, and maybe even more than a majority in the Senate.
And as I indicated to President Castro, two things I think will help accelerate the pace of bringing the embargo to an end. The first is to the degree that we can take advantage of the existing changes that we’ve already made and we see progress, that will help to validate this change in policy. So, for example, we have said that it is no longer a restriction on U.S. companies to invest in helping to build Internet and broadband infrastructure inside of Cuba. It is not against U.S. law, as it's been interpreted by the administration. If we start seeing those kinds of commercial deals taking place and Cubans are benefitting from greater access to the Internet -- and when I go to the entrepreneurship meeting later this afternoon, I understand that we're going to meet some young Cubans who are already getting trained and are facile in using the Internet, they’re interested in startups - that builds a constituency for ending the embargo.
If we build on the work that we're doing in agriculture, and you start seeing more U.S. farmers interacting with Cuban farmers, and there’s more exports and imports - that builds a constituency and the possibility of ending the embargo increases. So hopefully taking advantage of what we've already done will help.
And the second area, which we've already discussed extensively, is the issue of human rights. People are still concerned about that inside of Cuba. Now, keep in mind I’ve got fierce disagreements with the Chinese around human rights. I’ll be going to Vietnam later this year - I have deep disagreements with them as well.
When we first visited Burma, people questioned whether we should be traveling there because of longstanding human rights violations in our view. And the approach that I’ve taken has been that if I engage frankly, clearly, stating what our beliefs are but also being clear that we can't force change on any particular country -- ultimately it has to come from within - then that is going to be a more useful strategy than the same kinds of rigid disengagement that for 50 years did nothing. I guess ultimately what this comes down to, Andrea, is I have faith in people. I think that if you meet Cubans here and Cubans meet Americans, and they’re meeting and talking and interacting and doing business together, and going to school together and learning from each other, then they’ll recognize people are people. And in that context, I believe that change will occur. Okay, now I’m done, but Señor Presidente, I think Andrea had a question for you just about your vision.
It's up to you. He did say he was only going to take one question and I was going to take two. But I leave it up to you if you want to address that question.
Andrea, she’s one of our most esteemed journalists in America, and I’m sure she’d appreciate just a short, brief answer, Señor Presidente.
Raúl Castro.- Andrea, of course.
The other day you asked our Foreign Minister a question, Andrea. They are asking you questions too, but we have to conclude, there is a program. I know that if I stay here there will be 500 questions, and I said I would answer one, I'll answer one and a half.
President Obama has already helped me out with the answer.
Andrea, I read something about what I think regarding human rights, but now I’m going to pose a question to you.
In the recognized institutions, there are 61 international instruments on human rights. Andrea, do you know how many countries in the world comply with all these 61 human and civil rights included in these instruments? What country complies with them all? I do. None. None, whatsoever. Some countries comply with some rights; others comply with others. And we are among these countries. Out of these 61 instruments, Cuba has complied with 47. There are countries that may comply with more, there are many that comply with less. The issues of human rights can not be politicized, that is not correct. If pursued for these purposes, things will stay the same way.
For example, for Cuba, which doesn’t meet them all, there is the right to health. Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that millions and millions of children don’t die just due to the lack of a simple vaccine, or any medicine?
For example, do you agree with the right to free education for all those born in any country? I think many countries don't think this is a human right. In Cuba, all children are born in a hospital and they are registered that same day, because when mothers are in an advanced stage of their pregnancy, they go to hospitals, sometimes many days before delivery, or to local medical facilities, prior to the delivery, so that all children are born in hospitals, regardless of whether they live in the mountains, or there economic circumstances.
We also have many other rights; a right to health, the right to education. And this is my last example that I will mention.
Do you think that for equal work, men should get better paid than women, just for the fact of being women? Well, in Cuba, women get the equal pay as men for equal work. I can give you many, hundreds of examples. That’s to say, I don't think we can use this argument, as part of a political confrontation, because it’s not fair, it's not correct. I’m not saying that it's not honest, it forms part of confrontations. But let us work so that we can all comply with all human rights.
The same when talking about prisoners - I’m going to conclude, because there was a commitment that we should end on time. It’s not correct to ask us about political prisoners, please give me the name of a political prisoner.
Moderator.- We have concluded.
Thank you all for your participation.