HAVANA (Reuters) – President Raul Castro demanded on Saturday that the United States respect Cuba’s communist rule as the two countries work to restore diplomatic ties, and warned that Cuban-American exiles might try to sabotage the rapprochement.
US President Barack Obama this week reset Washington’s Cold War-era policy on Cuba and the two countries swapped prisoners in a historic deal after 18 months of secret talks.
Cubans have treated the end of open US hostility as a triumph, especially the release of three Cuban intelligence agents who served long US prison terms for spying on Cuban exile groups in Florida.
US officials will visit Havana in January to start talks on normalising relations and Obama has said his government will push Cuba on issues of human and political rights as they negotiate over the coming months.
Castro said he is open to discussing a wide range of issues but that they should also cover the United States and he insisted Cuba would not give up its socialist principles.
“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro told the National Assembly.
He again praised Obama for the policy change in a speech that became a partly defiant, partly celebratory show of pride for resisting five decades of US aggression.
Despite the markedly improved tone in relations, Castro said Cuba faces a “long and difficult struggle” before the United States removes a decades-old economic embargo against the Caribbean island, in part because influential Cuban-American exiles will attempt to “sabotage the process”.
Obama has pledged to remove economic sanctions against Cuba but he still needs the Republican-controlled Congress to lift the embargo.