HAVANA – Cuba has much to be proud of in the realm of human rights and needs no lessons from the United States or anyone else in that regard, President Raul Castro said on Friday in his first public response to US counterpart Donald Trump’s announcement last month of a tougher line toward the island.
Trump’s decision to undo some of the liberalization that took place under predecessor Barack Obama represents an “intensified renewal of the unilateral (US) siege” of Cuba, Castro told the Cuban parliament.
The foreign press was barred from the session and the only account of the president’s remarks was provided by state media.
Trump presented his new policy toward Havana in a June 16 speech to Cuban exiles in Miami, pledging to make closer ties with the island contingent on free elections and respect for human rights.
Though the Republican blasted Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba during the 2016 campaign, he did not reverse the Democrat’s decision to re-establish diplomatic relations after a breach of more than 50 years.
Only the US Congress can end the economic embargo Washington imposed on Cuba in 1962, but Obama reduced some of the barriers to doing business with the island.
Among the steps announced by Trump was a ban on US individuals and firms trading with Cuban state conglomerate Gaesa, seen as the economic arm of the military.
The punitive measures are set to be formally detailed in September by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, which has responsibility for enforcing the embargo.
Trump’s speech in Miami marked the “return of an old and hostile rhetoric, belonging to the Cold War,” Castro told lawmakers.
He said that Trump also ignored the views of broad sectors of US society who want to see a lifting of the embargo and a full normalization of ties in order to “satisfy a small group in Florida.”
The 86-year-old Castro, who plans to step down next February in favor of a successor to be chosen by parliament, said that Cuba remains ready to negotiate with Washington on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
“Cuba and the United States can cooperate and co-exist, respecting our differences and promoting all that benefits their peoples,” Castro said.