Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro put a damper on rising hopes for improved U.S.-Cuba relations by saying that apparently conciliatory words from his brother had been misinterpreted.
The 82-year-old Castro also signaled on Tuesday that Cuba may be unwilling to make concessions to end 50 years of hostilities with the U.S. because the Cuban government believes it is not at fault for their troubled relations.
He criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for supporting the United States' 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, saying he had now "made it his own."
"There's no doubt the president interpreted badly the declaration by Raul," said Castro, referring to a statement by his younger brother, President Raul Castro, on Thursday in which he said Cuba was prepared to discuss "everything" with the United States, including political prisoners and human rights. [nN17330826]
The U.S. embargo, put in place three years after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution, has failed to achieve its goal of toppling the communist government he installed.
Raul Castro's words sent hopes for U.S.-Cuba rapprochement soaring when the Obama administration took them as a sign that Cuba wanted to move toward better relations in response to Obama's earlier decision to grant Cuban Americans the right to travel and send remittances freely to their homeland.
Obama, speaking in a news conference on Sunday at the close of a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, called President Castro's comments an "advance" and said there were other signals Cuba could send such freeing political prisoners and reducing the fees it charges to change dollars into Cuban money.
WHAT ORTEGA TOLD CARTER
But Fidel Castro cited a speech by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega at the summit in which he recounted telling former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Washington, not Nicaragua, had to change if it wanted better relations because Nicaragua had never done anything against the United States.
Ortega, Castro wrote, stated the situation "very clearly."
It was the second time Castro had cited the Ortega tale in a post-summit column.
President Castro, who has not spoken publicly since his Thursday comments, also suggested that Cuba send political prisoners to the United States in exchange for five Cuban agents being held in U.S. prisons.
Fidel Castro brushed off the positive U.S. reaction to his offer by saying "nobody should be amazed" by the idea, which Raul Castro had proposed before.
He described it not as a signal from Cuba, but as "a show of courage and confidence in the principles of the revolution."
Castro also dismissed the idea that Cuba charges too much to exchange remittances.
Obama, while saying he wants improved relations with Cuba, maintains support for the embargo, which he wants to use as leverage for change in Cuba.
"He did not invent it, but he made it his own just like 10 other presidents of the United States. You can predict certain failure for him on that road, just as for all his predecessors," Castro said.
Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since falling ill in July 2006, but maintains a powerful voice through prolific column writing. He ruled Cuba for 49 years before ceding power to Raul Castro in February 2008.
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