Costa Rica Presidency / Reuters

Raúl Castro to US: Return Gitmo, end embargo

Cuban president demands return of US base and end of decades-old US embargo before re-establishing normal relations

Cuban President Raúl Castro on Wednesday said the United States should return the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay and lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba before the two countries can re-establish normal relations.

Diplomatic relations, in theory, can be established before those demands are met, Castro said during a meeting of Latin American leaders in San José, Costa Rica. But "if these problems aren't resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn't make any sense," he added.

"The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base," Castro said. The U.S. has leased the 45-square-mile area from Cuba since the early 20th century. Since 1959 Cuba’s communist government has called the U.S. presence there illegal under international law, because the base was imposed on Cuba by force.

The U.S. in December announced major steps to normalize relations with Cuba, moving away from what President Barack Obama called an “outdated” policy. It was a dramatic shift in U.S. policy that will see an easing of the decades-long trade embargo of the island and the possible reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Obama announced the changes after a prisoner swap with Cuban authorities. U.S. citizen Alan Gross, a USAID contract worker whom Havana accused of spying, was released in exchange for three Cuban nationals jailed in Florida.

Only Congress can end the half-century embargo. But the measures give permission for U.S. residents to use credit cards in Cuba and for U.S. companies to export telephone, computer and Internet technologies.

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Castro's government has gradually linked the negotiations with the U.S. to a set of longstanding demands that include an end to U.S. support for Cuban dissidents, and Cuba's removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“We should not pretend that Cuba has to renounce its ideals of independence and social justice,” Castro said on Wednesday. “We’re not going to cede one millimeter in the defense of national sovereignty. We will not accept any U.S. pressure regarding internal affairs.”

With The Associated Press

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