Cuba is open to talks with the United States about “everything” including political prisoners, President Raul Castro said on Thursday, a major softening of the communist island's stance toward its long-term foe.
“We have sent messages to the US government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything, whenever they want,” Castro said in an impassioned speech to a meeting of leftist leaders in Venezuela on the anniversary of a failed US-led invasion of Cuba in 1961.
“Human rights, press freedom, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about,” he said, only insisting that the talks be on equal terms.
Cuba is said to have about 200 political prisoners, whom it considers mercenaries for the US. It also severely limits freedom of expression, puts limits foreign travel by its citizens and does not hold multi-party elections.
Castro has taken some steps to open up Cuba's economy since replacing his brother Fidel Castro as the leader of Cuba in 2008 after nearly five decades.
Obama said on Thursday there were a range of steps Cuba could take to recast relations between the two countries, which have been virtually frozen in the decades since Cuba's 1959 Revolution.
“My guidepost in US-Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people, freedom of political speech, political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel,” he said during a news conference in Mexico.
Cuba accuses Washington of imperial behaviour and frequently points out that the US record on human rights is far from perfect.