Friday, April 17, 2009

Cuba Dialogue at Obama Calderon Press Conference

President Obama, you said in an op-ed that was out today that your new Cuba policy was part of an effort to move beyond the frozen disputes of the 20th century. Why then is it so limited? Why not open the door for all Americans to visit Cuba? And what will you say to your colleagues at the Summit of the Americas who want you to do more?

And, President Calderon, what do you think the United States should do more on Cuba in order to improve relations with the region? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I don't think that we should dismiss the significance of the step that we took. We eliminated
remittance restrictions and travel restrictions for Cuban Americans who have family members in Cuba. For those families, this is extraordinarily significant. For the people in Cuba who will benefit from their family members being able to provide them help and to visit them, it's extraordinarily significant.
We took steps on
telecommunications that can potentially open up greater lines of communication between Cuba and the United States.

And so I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our
relationship
. Now, a relationship that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight. And so having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don't expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic. But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only do U.S.-Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be
released.


We talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there's not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they're under. I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want
to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years.

I'm optimistic that progress can be made if there is a spirit that is looking forward rather than backward. My guidepost in U.S.-Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people: political speech and political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel. But, as I said before, I don't expect things to change overnight. What I do insist on is that U.S.-Cuban relationships are grounded with a respect not only for the traditions of each countrybut also respect for human rights and the people's -- the needs of the people of Cuba.

And so I hope that the signal I've sent here is, is that we are not trying to be heavy-handed. We want to be open to engagement. But we're going to do so in a systematic way that keeps focus on the hardships and struggles that many Cubans are still going through.

PRESIDENT CALDERON: I would not pretend to give advice or suggestions to President Obama on this matter or any other. Let me just say what I personally believe -- or rather what I believe about the Cuban reality. The question that has to be posed rather is whether the U.S. embargo on Cuba has worked. The reality is that the embargo has been there long before we were even born, and yet things have not changed
all that much in Cuba. I think we would have to ask ourselves whether that isn't enough time to realize that it has been a strategy that has not been very useful to achieve change in Cuba.

I do think -- I share fully the idea we do not believe that the embargo or the isolation of Cuba is a good measure for things to change in Cuba. On the contrary; the reality that we see there is that the reality has not changed. And it's because of internal factors, mostly, of course, but also because of external reasons,such as the embargo. Because of that, the Cubans have become impoverished.

I greet -- I welcome the measures that President Obama has taken in order to change this attitude, and to try to attempt -- and the attempt must be appreciated -- to change the policy towards Cuba little by little. But what is clear to me is that we both share the same ideals. I think we would both like to see the world living at
some point under a full democracy, a world with full respect for human rights, with no exceptions whatsoever. We would like to see a world working with people being able to take care of their families, to live in peace, and those principles that must protect humanity. That we do share.

We also share the idea that each nation must be respected in its own decisions. It's like we were saying a moment ago when we were talking about the prohibition of assault weapons. Of course, we do not want those weapons to be out in the streets, but at the same time we want those decisions to come from the people themselves and to be self-determinant. And it's the same for Cuba. But I believe that the
steps President Obama has taken are very positive.

Mexico is a good friend of Cuba, and Mexico is also a good friend of the United States. We want to be a good friend of Cuba and of the United States. We want both things. And we know that one day, the day that these principles we believe in prevail, that day we will be able to be neighbors, the three of us -- the United States, Cuba and Mexico.

What are the principles we believe in? Democracy, human rights, but also liberty, property, trade, free trade, free economy. And I think as long as those principles can function and bring benefits to the Cuban economy, then things can begin to change. We cannot change anything that has already taken place in the past, but I am certain that as heads of state, we can do a lot to try to make a different
future, both for the world, both for our countries, and also in relation to Cuba.

I told President Obama that the best of luck in this panorama that is now so totally different from what U.S. policy has been in the past. I hope for the best, and I hope that more expeditious steps could be taken so that we can move forward in this regard, and that everything will be done with good understanding. And as Mexico can contribute in any way for two of our friends to work out what they have between themselves, I hope that we can contribute. And if our best contribution is just to maintain our respect, that is fine.

=================================================================
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Mexico City, Mexico)

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