This week, our generation saw something that our parents and our grandparents never thought would happen. After recently announcing that we would be repairing our relationship with Cuba, with whom relations have been strained for a long time, President Obama became the first sitting president to meet with the sitting leader of the communist nation of Cuba in over 80 years. However historic this moment may be, it was not an entirely amicable encounter, as Raul Castro, the President of Cuba, took many shots at the United States.
In late 2014, President Obama and President Castro announced that steps were being taken to normalize relations between the US and Cuba. This normalization includes the lifting of certain travel bans, establishment of a US embassy in Havana, and fewer restrictions on remittances, or money transfers by foreign workers to the home nation.
Many people are critical of this normalization of relations with Cuba, citing Cuba’s history of human rights violation. To this day, people are still attempting the trip across dangerous waters to find freedom in the United States, just as they were half a century ago.
These tensions were extremely evident during the joint press conference held by Obama and Castro. During this press conference, which was definitely historic, President Castro made it very clear that his regime in Cuba and the United States do not see eye to eye.
Raul Castro, the brother of communist revolutionary and murderer Fidel Castro, spent his time on camera, which was being broadcast to the entire country in a strange chance for the communist nation, spouting off what can only be called lies, inconsistencies, and falsehoods. Among other things, he said that women are not paid equally in the United States; making it clear he has not heard of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Castro dared to say that his country’s health system was doing quite well, despite the fact that Fidel Castro had to seek proper medial treatment in South America.
While taking questions from the press, the Cuban president denied that Cuba is holding any political prisons, despite extensive knowledge of those prisoners. He said that he wanted to see a “list” of these political prisoners, and then they would talk. The White House later stated they had sent Castro such a list, making us wonder if they are going to wait to talk about human rights until they get asked to provide lists of grievances.
Another point of contention brought up by Castro was what he called the US’s “illegal occupation” of Guantanamo Bay. He seems to have forgotten that the United States has been in control of the southern portion of Guantanamo Bay, where the naval base and dentation camp sit, since 1903, thanks to the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations.
While we can only hope that normalized relations between the US and Cuba allow Cuba to work towards economic freedom and democracy, we should not take this first step for granted. Cuba still commits egregious human rights violations and no communist nation is truly serving its people to the best of its ability. We cannot sit back and think that increased travel and trade makes up for the nonexistence of basic human rights and freedoms. If Cuba wants normal relations, they need to step up to the plate, admit their faults, and work to better their nation. There is a reason that people have spent the past half of a century fleeing Cuba for the United States.
Raul Castro has said he will not seek re-election in 2018. A new US president will take office in January of 2017, and will play a large part in determining how these relations will continue in the future.
Obama was joined on this trip by his family, many members of his administration and associated members of civil and business groups, meant to could symbolize increased economic opportunity in Cuba in the future.
header image credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/obama-che-guevara-mural-cuba-2016-3