US President Barack Obama urged Cuba to improve its human rights record, warning that the issue will remain an irritant as the two nations seek to normalize ties with each other.
In a joint news conference Monday with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro in Havana, Obama said “full flowering” of the relationship would happen only with progress on the issue of rights, Reuters reported.
“In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant,” Obama said after talks with Castro, in remarks broadcast live on Cuban state television.
“America believes in democracy. We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values but are universal values,” the US president said amid a historic visit to Cuba.
Castro countered that no country meets all international rights.
Meanwhile, he was irritated when a Western journalist asked about political prisoners in Cuba, demanding the reporter produce a list of those in jail.
“Tell me now. What political prisoners? Give me a name, or the names,” Castro said. “And if there are these political prisoners they will be free before nightfall.”
He stressed that Cuba has a strong record on rights such as health, access to education and women’s equality.
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