HAVANA – Raul Castro dismissed Barack Obama's policy changes toward Cuba as "achieving only the minimum," and said Wednesday that it is up to the U.S. — not Cuba — to do more to improve relations.
The Cuban president suggested the communist government is not willing to appease Washington by embracing small political and social reforms on the island, saying in a speech before an international gathering of government ministers that "it is not Cuba who has to make gestures."
The Obama administration has allowed unlimited travel and money transfers for Americans with family in this country and eased restrictions on telecommunications between the United States and Cuba. But top U.S. officials have also said they would like to see some Cuban reforms before truly exploring normalizing diplomatic relations that Washington broke off in January 1961.
Raul Castro has said previously he is willing to discuss such sticky subjects as human rights, freedom of the press and political prisoners in Cuba during possible negotiations with the United States. Obama reacted favorably to such sentiments, but Raul's ailing brother Fidel appears less comfortable with them and even accused the U.S. president of "misinterpreting" his brother words.
Raul's comments Wednesday appeared to take a harder line on unilateral concessions to meet U.S. expectations, and echoed the words of Fidel, who has written in public essays that Obama's policy changes did not go far enough because Washington's 47-year-old trade embargo is still in place.
The younger Castro said that the U.S. steps were, "fine, positive but only achieve the minimum. The embargo remains intact."
"There is not political or moral pretext that justifies this policy," he said of the embargo. "Cuba has not imposed any such sanction against the United States or its citizens."
The 82-year-old Fidel has not been seen in public since July 2006 and ceded the presidency to Raul Castro more than a year ago — but still writes influential essays almost every day which are published in state-controlled newspapers and read on official radio and television.
On Wednesday, Raul Castro repeated that Cuba would be willing to sit down with U.S. negotiators, saying "we have reiterated that we are ready to talk about everything with the government of the U.S. under equal conditions.
"But not to negotiate our sovereignty nor our political and social system, and our right to self-determination and internal affairs."
He made it clear that if Cuba is willing to broach thorny issues, the U.S. should be ready to do the same.
"If they want to discuss all, it should be ... everything, everything, everything of ours but also of theirs," Castro said at the ministerial meeting of the Nonaligned Movement.