Saturday 10 December 2016

Obama ends 'last remnant of Cold War' in Americas

Harriet Alexander in Havana

Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro gesture after a news conference .
President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro gesture after a news conference .

Half a century of hostility between the US and Cuba is over, said US President Barack Obama, as he told the Cuban people he had come to their country to end "the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas".

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Mr Obama, making the first visit by a US president in 88 years, told the country via Cuban state television: "I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it."

And he said the era of being "shadow boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities" had ended, as he urged Cubans to take control of their own future - comments surely to have raised eyebrows among Cuba's repressive leaders.

"I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear," he said, making pointed reference to the waves of arrests that preceded his visit. After his speech he was due to meet a group of dissidents to hear their complaints directly.

"To organise and to criticise their government and to protest peacefully, 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. Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose, and that you can shape and that you can build for your country."

In giving the first ever live address by a US president, Mr Obama knew he was speaking to a broad, and passionately opposed, audience. Cubans who want change, those in Cuba who fear American recolonisation, those in the US who despise him being there, and Raul Castro, the Cuban president seated in front of him, all listened intently.

He did not address the thorny issue of Guantanamo - something which the White House said was not up for discussion during the visit.

And Mr Obama, speaking inside the theatre which houses the Cuban national ballet, attempted to speak to them all in a soaring, carefully pitched speech in which he praised democracy, but insisted the US was not returning to control the island.

"Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here, we had to travel a great distance, over barriers of history and ideology, barriers of pain and separation," he said.

"I've made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people."

Mr Obama used his speech to call on the Cuban government to play its part in improving the lives of the people - increasing access to the Internet, making it easier to open a business, and ending the dual currency system.

He warned that if Cuba's government does not allow the people to strive for a better life, "over time, the youth will lose hope".

He added: "I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American president."

But he used his own personal story to promote the idea of American values, saying their democratic system made it possible for a man like him - mixed race, from humble origins - to become president of the United States.

On Monday he noted how he had brought his wife and daughters with him, to see for themselves what Cuba was. The family dined in a local restaurant, toured the old town, and yesterday attended a baseball game.

"My time here in Cuba renews my confidence in what the Cuban people can do," he said.

And then, in a Spanish translation of his election slogan 'Yes, we can' he concluded: "Si, se puede." (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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