Obama and Castro share differences and goodwill during historic Cuba visit

Breaking decades of hostility and suspicion, President Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro Monday in a historic trip to the communist island. The two heads of state even took questions -- a rarity for Cuba’s government -- during which the issue of human rights struck a nerve. Judy Woodruff reports.

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    The end of one era, the beginning of another. President Obama held direct talks today with the leader of Cuba in his capital city. And they took questions, something the communist government rarely allows.

    It was a moment that made history, "The Star-Spangled Banner" played for an American president in the heart of Havana. Mr. Obama stood side by side with Cuban President Raul Castro in the city no U.S. leader had visited in 88 years.

    Later, they emerged from a private meeting to describe their summit.


    For more than half-a-century, the sight of a U.S. president here in Havana would have been unimaginable. But this is a new day. Es un nuevo dia.

  • PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO, Cuba (through interpreter):

    Today, I reaffirm that we should exercise the art of civilized coexistence, which involves accepting and respecting differences and preventing these from becoming the center of our relationship.


    But the issue of human rights quickly interjected itself.

    CNN reporter Jim Acosta, a Cuban-American, apparently struck a nerve when he asked Castro about political prisoners.

  • PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO (through interpreter):

    Give me of can give me a list of the political prisoners, and I will release them immediately. Just mention a list. If we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.


    In fact, yesterday, just hours ahead of Mr. Obama's arrival, Cuban officials detained dozens of dissidents. Back at today's briefing, President Obama acknowledged differences on the issue, but said he believes a constructive dialogue is possible.


    As I think we both indicated, we had a very frank conversation around issues of democracy and human rights. Our starting point is that we have two different systems. 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.


    The Obama visit is the product of more than a year of work to thaw relations. During that time, embassies in both countries have reopened, with some economic and trade barriers lifted.

    Already, there's been an influx of American tourists and business interests to the island nation. Coinciding with the trip, Mr. Obama announced Google will work to expand Internet coverage in Cuba, and he met with American and Cuban entrepreneurs.

    Separately, American hotel chain Starwood said it will begin operating in Havana soon. But referring to the commercial opening, President Castro said today it's not enough, and he pointed again to the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, which Congress has refused to abolish.

  • PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO (through interpreter):

    Much more could be done if the U.S. blockade were lifted. The most recent measures adopted by the Obama administration are positive, but insufficient. The blockade remains enforced, and it contains discouraging elements and intimidating effects and extraterritorial outreach.


    Castro also called again for the U.S. to return the Guantanamo Naval Base site to Cuban control.

    Despite such disagreements, there were also gestures of goodwill. President Obama laid a wreath this morning at a memorial for Cuban independence hero Jose Marti. And on Sunday, despite a steady rain, the first family toured old Havana, as hundreds of people looked on.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    It was very emotional, very emotional. It was good. We Cubans here, as always, are happy and joyful to receive him. May this all be for good, retaining our full identity.

  • CLARISA PEREZ, Havana Resident (through interpreter):

    I don't disagree with his coming to the island, but, well, what I want is that changes be for the benefit of the Cuban people, because we are going through a difficult economic time here. There is no milk. We are mistreated.


    The president plans to meet with opposition figures tomorrow before a baseball game between the Cuban national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

    We will get a report from the scene in Havana, and analyze the Obama visit, after the news summary.

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