WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Wednesday slammed Cuba for its continued political and human rights repression and called for an end to the Communist regime's "clenched fist" policy against its people.
Recent events, including the death of a hunger striker and crackdowns on protesters, "underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist," Obama said in some of his toughest words against Havana since taking office 14 months ago.
"I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression, for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people," he added.
Obama took office in early 2009 pledging to seek improved ties with the only Communist government in the Americas, and reportedly sought to urge President Raul Castro to step up efforts to improve relations with Washington.
Last month Obama sent his highest-ranking envoy yet to Havana to hold fresh talks on migration issues.
But on Wednesday the US leader described recent events, including the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata, crackdowns against women protesters known as Las Damas de Blanco (the Ladies in White), and "intensified harassment" of other activists as "deeply disturbing."
"During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba," he said in the statement.
"I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedoms that define the Americas, and that should be universal to all human beings."
© AFP 2013