12/24/13 - Edmonton Journal - Cuba extends hand of friendship to US
Cuba is ready for a warming of ties with the United States but will never
give in to demands to change its socialist government and economy, Raul
Castro, the president, has said.
Speaking after exchanging an impromptu handshake with Barack Obama, the US
president, at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Castro yesterday
signalled that he was ready to talk, but would not capitulate to America.
"If we really want to move our bilateral relations forward, we'll have to
learn to respect differences," he said in the speech to Cuba's parliament
at the weekend. "If not, we're ready to take another 55 years in the same
He said Cuba would never become like the U.S, saying "we don't demand that
the U.S. change its political or social system and we don't accept
negotiations over ours".
Earlier this month the White House cautioned against reading too much into
the handshake between the two leaders but Obama has steadily improved ties
with Cuba since taking office in 2008, taking steps to relax long-standing
barriers to travel and trade.
Since taking over from his brother, Fidel, as president, Raul Castro has
also taken steps to liberalise parts of the Cuban economy, allowing
small-scale entrepreneurship, although he has criticised those who wanted
to move too far, too fast with reforms.
Several Cubans interviewed on the streets of Havana said they generally
approved of Castro's speech but wanted more details on economic reforms,
and a softer line toward America.
Julia Sweig, the director for Latin American Studies at the Council on
Foreign Relations, said Castro was posing a fundamental question to the
White House about the terms on which the U.S. was prepared to move forward
"For U.S. officials, the message from Castro is clear: 'We're not asking
you to change your political and economic system, so can you live with the
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