Tue, Apr 07, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Cuba ‘not afraid’ of talks with US

TIME FOR CHANGE The comments came as a group of US lawmakers visited Cuba to try to end nearly half a century of mutual distrust between the two countries

AFP , HAVANA

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro said his country was not afraid of dialogue with the US nor interested in continued confrontation with its powerful neighbor.

The comments came as a group of US lawmakers visited Cuba this weekend to try to end nearly half a century of mutual distrust and amid reports that US President Barack Obama was planning to ease economic sanctions on the island, including travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.

“We’re not afraid to talk with the United States. We also don’t need confrontation to exist, like some fools like to think,” Castro said in an article on the Cubadebate Web site on Sunday.

Castro said the 47-year-old US economic embargo on Cuba was a “total failure” and agreed with Indiana Senator Richard Lugar’s recent proposal that the White House appoint a special envoy to review relations with Cuba.

“Those who can quietly analyze the facts, like the Indiana senator, have an indisputable argument: After nearly half a century, the US measures against Cuba are a total failure,” Castro said.

“We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we’ve never been afraid to talk with our adversary. It’s the only way to achieve friendship and peace between peoples,” he said.

In a separate article on Sunday, Castro challenged Latin American countries to support an end to Cuba’s isolation at a regional summit this month that will include Obama.

Castro said an upcoming Summit of the Americas would be a “trial by fire” for the region as they discuss Cuba’s half-century-old dispute with Washington.

The revolutionary icon said a draft of the text set to be discussed by leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and Obama was “unacceptable” and would result in Cuba’s continued isolation.

Cuba will be blocked from attending the April 17 to April 19 summit in Trinidad and Tobago, part of a long-standing US attempt to bar the country from regional meetings.

Castro’s call won almost instantaneous backing from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“We cannot accept that the United States continues to harass Cuba. This is still a question of honor,” Chavez told state television. “We should ask ourselves: If we are all friends of Cuba, why does this country not exist? But we are not going to keep our mouths closed — even the rocks will be speaking in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Almost all governments in the region support an end to the US embargo on Cuba, but most have shied away from imperiling ties with the US.

While campaigning for the presidency last year, Obama said he was open to dialogue with Washington adversaries including Havana. As president, he has moved to lift some of the restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba and ease cash transfers to the country.

Fidel underwent gastrointestinal surgery in July 2006 and turned the reins of power over to his younger brother, Raul Castro, who officially became president in February last year.

The seven US lawmakers, headed by Representative Barbara Lee, are on a five-day visit to Cuba and have so far met parliament president Ricardo Alarcon on Friday and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Saturday. Lee said the group hoped to meet Raul Castro as well.

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