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Obama Defends Cuba Measures, Urges Reciprocation from Havana


President Obama says his decision to relax restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba are highly significant and merit reciprocal steps by the island's communist government. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Mexico City, where Mr. Obama spoke alongside President Felipe Calderon.

At a news conference where President Obama spoke alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mr. Obama was asked why he opened the door for travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans, but not the American people as a whole.

Mr. Obama said the importance of the steps taken earlier this week should not be dismissed, and that they are, in his words, extraordinarily significant for Cubans and Cuban Americans alike.

"I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our relationship [with Cuba]," he said.

The president said he wants to see, as he put it, if Cuba is also ready to change.

He acknowledged that 50 years of frozen relations will not thaw overnight.

"But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they are interested in liberalizing in such a ways that, not only U.S.-Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be released," Mr. Obama said.

Responding to the loosening of the travel and remittances ban, former Cuban President Fidel Castro suggested the moves did not go far enough, and urged a complete lifting of the U.S. economic embargo of the island.

During last year's presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama expressed willingness to meet with leaders of nations with which the United States has no formal diplomatic relations, including Cuban President Raul Castro. But President Obama says Cuba needs to embrace democratic reform before the U.S. embargo can be dismantled.

At the news conference, President Obama acknowledged that debate continues over the prohibition on U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba.

"But there is not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere, and the severe restrictions that they are under," he said.

Mr. Obama spoke on the eve of his trip to Trinidad and Tobago for the fifth Summit of the Americas, a gathering of all hemispheric leaders minus Cuba. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decried Cuba's exclusion from the event.

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