“I think that what President Obama has just said, it’s practically the same as we feel about the topics, including human rights, freedom of the press,” said Castro. “We have said on previous occasions to some American friends that we are willing to discuss every issue between the United States and Cuba. We are willing to discuss about those issues that I have mentioned and about many others, as these--both in Cuba but also in the United States.
According to Obama’s State Department, Castro is the Communist leader of an authoritarian Communist government which abuses the human rights of its people and does not recognize or allow freedom of the press.
“Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces,” said the State Department Country Report on human rights in Cuba for 2013, which was published in 2014, and is the latest available.
“The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and ‘the superior leading force of society and of the state,’” said the State Department report. “A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates for the February uncontested National Assembly elections, which were neither free nor fair. The national leadership that included members of the military maintained effective control over the security forces, which committed human rights abuses against civil rights activists and other citizens alike.”
“The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press only insofar as it ‘conforms to the aims of socialist society,’” said the State Department report. “Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment.”
“The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, severely restricted internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship,” said the State Department report.
In their joint appearance, which took place in Panama City, President Obama thanked Castro for his “spirit of openness.”
“So I want to thank President Castro for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions,” said Obama. “And I think if we can build on this spirit of mutual respect and candidness, that over time we will see not just a transformation in the relationship between our two countries, but a positive impact throughout the hemisphere and the world.”
Castro said that among the things he agrees with President Obama about is that they “have agreed to disagree.”
“But when I say that I agree with everything that the President has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree,” said Castro. “No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the President has described.”
Obama’s and Castro’s full statements are available on the White House website by clicking here.