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Obama, Addressing Cuba, Says It’s Time to ‘Bury’ the Cold War

Obama, Addressing Cuba, Says It’s Time to ‘Bury’ the Cold War
President champions rights in speech directed in part at Cuban leader
Raúl Castro, before meeting dissidents and attending baseball game
By CAROL E. LEE and JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA
Updated March 22, 2016 7:38 p.m. ET

HAVANA, Cuba—President Barack Obama concluded a history-making visit to
Cuba by plunging Tuesday into prickly issues of civil liberties and free
elections, drawing qualified approval but also a measure of skepticism
from Cubans and human-rights advocates.

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the
Americas,” Mr. Obama said in a speech in Old Havana on the final day of
his groundbreaking trip. “It is time for us to look forward to the
future together.”

Mr. Obama largely aimed his speech at the people of Cuba, particularly
the younger generation. But he also had a message on human rights for
President Raúl Castro, who was seated in the audience. “You need not
fear the different voices of the Cuban people,” Mr. Obama said.

Cubans should be free to speak their minds and protest their government
without fear of “arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those
rights,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe those human rights are universal.”

He later met at the U.S. Embassy with a group of 13 Cuban dissidents.

Activist Antonio Rodiles, one of the group, called the two-hour
gathering “frank and intense,” but said he expressed doubts about U.S.
plans to seek democratic change through economic diplomacy. He also said
he worried that Washington isn’t pressuring Cuba’s government enough.

“Mr. Obama listened carefully to our concerns,” but defended his
approach, said Mr. Rodiles, who said he had been detained and beaten on
Sunday and Monday. He added: “To assess who was right, we’ll have to
wait and see what happens.”

Ovidio Martín Castellanos of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a prominent
opposition group whose leader, José Daniel Ferrer, was among the
dissidents who met with Mr. Obama, said the president sent a clear
message for change, “but that it is in the hands of the Cuban people.”

“It’s the Castro regime that doesn’t want to accept change,” he added.
“They are between the sword and the wall.”

Mr. Obama, who on Monday clashed with Mr. Castro at a news conference
over the issue of human rights, said at the meeting with dissidents that
they were people who had “shown extraordinary courage.”

“There are people here who have been detained. Some in the past, some
very recently,” Mr. Obama said. “They have spoken out on behalf of the
issues they care deeply about.”

He added that U.S. engagement aims to open up communications with
dissidents and the Cuban people as a whole. “This is an area where we
continue to have deep differences with the Cuban government,” Mr. Obama
said.

Mr. Obama drew political criticism for not breaking off his trip after
the Brussels terror attacks, which killed more than 30 people Tuesday.
But he said it was important that people continue living their lives
despite threats, and lauded Boston’s response to the 2013 marathon bombing.

“That is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to
continually show in the face of these terrorists,” Mr. Obama said,
watching a baseball game in Havana. “They cannot defeat America….What
they can do is scare, and make people afraid, and disrupt our daily
lives and divide us. And as long as we don’t allow that to happen we’re
going to be OK.”

Mr. Obama delivered his speech in an opulent theater in Old Havana, the
Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso, which is named after a renowned
Cuban ballerina, who attended the speech, seated in a balcony with other
dignitaries and Cuban officials.

Mr. Obama’s comments on human rights received some applause, but less
than when he called on the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo against
Cuba, a passage that prompted some in the audience to stand.

Watching Mr. Obama’s nationally televised speech from her home in
Havana’s once upper-class Vedado neighborhood, retired biologist Rosa
María Coro Antich said his heartfelt plea for reconciliation between
Cubans who support the regime and those living abroad made her eyes tear up.

Ms. Coro Antich, who augments a meager pension by teaching English to
college-aged Cubans, said she liked Mr. Obama’s vision of the future.

But she said she was saddened that many of Cuba’s young people didn’t
see a future for themselves on the island. “They are overwhelmed,” she
said of the youths she knows. “Most want to leave, and every time one
leaves I suffer.”

Like many other Cubans, Ms. Coro Antich said she appreciated Mr. Obama’s
respectful attitude towards the island.

“I like very much looking towards the future, but you can’t forget the
past,” she said. “We have been forced to defend ourselves for such a
long time. Our culture and identity are created by our past.”

Ms. Coro Antich said she, for one, was already on Mr. Obama’s
wavelength, but that the speech “might open the eyes a bit of people who
aren’t.”

Jesús, her husband, a retired Communist official, was dry-eyed. But he
said Mr. Obama had been brave to come to Cuba. “He came here with the
idea of winning over the Cuban people,” he said. “He has helped Cuba a lot.”

Before leaving Havana late on Tuesday for a visit tArgentina, Mr. Obama
attended an exhibition baseball game between Cuba’s national team and
the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay won, 4-1.

—Dudley Althaus and Kejal Vyas contributed to this article.

Write to Carol E. Lee at Carol.Lee@wsj.com

Source: Obama, Addressing Cuba, Says It’s Time to ‘Bury’ the Cold War –
WSJ –
www.wsj.com/articles/obama-addressing-cuba-says-its-time-to-bury-the-cold-war-1458662691

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