POLITICS

Raul Castro demands U.S. pay back Cubans for 'damages,' return Guantanamo

Cuban President Raul Castro demanded on Wednesday that the United States return the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations.

Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that Cuba and the U.S. are working toward full diplomatic relations but "if these problems aren't resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn't make any sense."

Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 that they would move toward renewing full diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each other's countries. The two governments held negotiations in Havana last week to discuss both the reopening of embassies and the broader agenda of re-establishing normal relations.

Obama has loosened the trade embargo with a range of measures designed to increase economic ties with Cuba and increase the number of Cubans who don't depend on the communist state for their livelihoods.

The Obama administration says removing barriers to U.S. travel, remittances and exports to Cuba is a tactical change that supports the United States' unaltered goal of reforming Cuba's single-party political system and centrally planned economy.

Many Cuban exiles and U.S. lawmakers have stressed that the Castro regime owes $6 billion for the assets seized from thousands of U.S. citizens and businesses after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Fox News recently reported. With the United States pressing forward on normalizing relations with the communist country, some say the talks must resolve these claims.

"The administration has not provided details about how it will hold the Castro regime to account for the more than $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Fla., top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of historic talks in Havana this month.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.) who is chair of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, assailed the Castro regime's Guantanamo demands.

“According to the legally binding agreement between the U.S. and Cuba regarding Guantanamo: ‘so long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has,'" the Cuban-American lawmaker said in a statement to the press.

“Naval Station Guantanamo Bay is strategically important for U.S. national security...The President must not allow this strategic asset to be extorted from the U.S. by the Castro brothers at any cost."

Ros-Lehtinen said the Castro regime needs to acknowledge the compensation it owes to Cubans and Americans whose properties and assets it confiscated.

“Noticeably absent from the regime’s demands, not surprisingly, is any offer to compensate the Cubans and Americans who had their land and property seized by the Castro regime, any change in its oppressive nature and abysmal human rights practices, and to halt its support for terrorism.”

Cuba has said it welcomes the measures but has no intention of changing its system. Without establishing specific conditions, Castro's government has increasingly 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.

On Wednesday, Castro emphasized an even broader list of Cuban demands, saying that while diplomatic ties may be re-established, normal relations with the U.S. depend on a series of concessions that appear highly unlikely in the near future.

"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 Guanatanamo naval base," Castro said.

He demanded that the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver "just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they're suffered."

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Castro's remarks.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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