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Raul Castro: Ready to Talk to US

Thursday, 26 Jul 2012 01:06 PM


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Cuban President Raul Castro accused the United States on Thursday of seeking an overthrow of the Cuban government similar to Arab Spring countries, while reiterating his government's willingness to negotiate with its decades old foe.

"“The day they want (to talk) the table is served," Castro said in a nationally televised address on one of the biggest days in Cuba's political calendar.

“"I have already informed them through diplomatic channels. If they want to talk, we will talk ... but as equals ... We are going to talk about the same themes (democracy and human rights) in the United States," he said.

The communist-ruled island was marking the anniversary of the 1953 attack led by Fidel Castro on the Moncada army barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba that started the Cuban Revolution.

Raul Castro, dressed in military uniform, spoke in eastern Guantanamo province after the official celebration marking the date concluded.

Castro, who took over for his ailing brother in 2008 after serving as defense minister for decades, charged that government opponents on the island, supported by the United States and other western countries, "were “creating the conditions and aspiring to one day have happen here, what happened in Libya and what they want to happen in Syria."

Libya's long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled after a bloody conflict, and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar a-Assad are trying to crush a rebellion seeking to oust him.

Castro's comments followed the death on Sunday of the country's most prominent dissident and civil rights activist, Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in an apparent car accident. Paya led a 2002 petition drive to reform the country's one-party political system, but was also highly critical of U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the 50-year-old economic embargo against the island.

Cuba is undergoing a major economic reform process to shrink its inefficient public administration and state-run business sectors, but has staunchly rejected any suggestions of reform to its political system.

U.S.-Cuban relations have warmed slightly since President Barack Obama took office but progress has come to a virtual halt since American contractor Alan Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for setting up Internet networks under a semi-covert U.S. program aimed at promoting political change.

Hostile rhetoric between the two governments has heated up in recent months as election cycles in both countries take place, with the White House criticizing Havana for its repression of dissent.

"“If they want a confrontation with us let it be only in baseball or some other sport," Castro quipped. "“In other areas no. We have no interest in harming anyone, but we will defend our people," he said.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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