For such a historic speech from a Castro, it was curiously short.
Cuban President Raul Castro spoke for just nine minutes, starting at noon Eastern time, to respond to the momentous changes being simultaneously unveiled by Barack Obama in Washington.
Given that his famously verbose predecessor and brother Fidel’s longest speech was recorded at more than seven hours, one might have expected more.
Maybe it was old age. Raul, after all is 83. And it showed, as he read slightly shakily on live TV from a clutch of paper notes.
Nevertheless, in that short time, he did manage to cover enough ground to both graciously accept and rhetorically return the US olive branch with interest, while also insisting that the “heroic Cuban people” would continue to ferociously assert their island’s independence.
“As the result of a dialogue at the highest level, including a telephone conversation that I held yesterday with President Barack Obama, we were able to advance in the solution of certain issues of interest to both nations,” Castro began.
He then went on to underline how Obama’s breakthrough towards Havana deserved the “respect and recognition” of Cubans and name-checked the returning Cuban spies.
Raul went on: “Based on humanitarian reasons, today the US citizen Alan Gross was also returned to his country. In a unilateral way, as is our practice, and in strict compliance with our legal order, the corresponding prisoners have received prison benefits, including the liberation of peoples in whom the United States government has shown an interest.”
“Equally, we have agreed the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. This does not mean that the principle [problem] has been resolved: The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which has caused enormous human and economic damage to our country should end.”
“Although the blockade measure has become law, the president of the United States can modify its application using his executive powers.”
“On recognizing that we have deep differences, fundamentally in the areas of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and internal politics, we reaffirm our willingness to discuss all these issues.”
“We exhort the US to remove the obstacles that impede or restrict the links between our peoples, the families and the citizens of both countries, in particular those relating to visits, direct post, and telecommunications.”
“The advances achieved during the exchanges that have taken place show that it is possible to find the solutions to many problems. As we have repeated, we should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner, with our differences.”
Maybe, the end of Cuban sanctions really will, over time, herald the advent of genuine democracy on the Caribbean island, as Obama is calculating.
Yet Raul Castro’s intention could hardly be more different, as he again spelt out his regime’s top goal: “The modernizing of our economic model, to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.”
It remains to be seen whether that model really can outlive the Castro brothers, especially as Cuba now slowly rebuilds economic, cultural and social ties with its outsize neighbor, the US.
By Simeon Tegel, GlobalPost
This article is syndicated from GlobalPost.