Tue, Dec 09, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Raul Castro defiant at US embargo on eve of Caribbean bloc leaders summit

AP , SANTIAGO

Cuban President Raul Castro said on Sunday that Cuba has battled Washington’s trade embargo for nearly 50 years and is prepared to do so for another 50 if need be.

His comments appeared to be a small swipe at Washington at a time when US president-elect Barack Obama has raised expectations that warmer US-Cuba relations could be on the way.

He spoke as leaders from the 14 member nations of the Caribbean Community trade bloc, or CARICOM, gathered in Santiago to discuss ways to strengthen tourism in the region despite the global economic crisis.

Castro and Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, whose country is occupying the rotating post as head of CARICOM, led a visit by summit leaders to the tomb of 19th-century Cuban independence leader Jose Marti, where each leader laid a flower in front of the hexagonal mausoleum.

Later, during an event at Santiago’s Plaza of the Revolution, Castro said of the US economic sanctions that “we have learned to resist for half a century, and we are prepared to fight for another half century.”

Obama has promised to ease restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to travel to Cuba or send money to relatives. He has also said he is willing to meet with Castro without preconditions, though he has no plans to push for a complete lifting of the embargo.

Cuba has said that if Obama keeps promises on family travel and remittances, it will be a positive step toward normalizing relations. But communist leaders also continue to demand the full lifting of trade sanctions, which bar US tourists from visiting and outlaw almost all trade between the countries.

Castro and CARICOM leaders were to meet behind closed doors yesterday.

Climate change, healthcare and rising world food prices are also on the agenda.

Leaders from the bloc also plan a tribute to Castro’s ailing 82-year-old brother Fidel, who has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. Fidel Castro is not expected to attend the summit.

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