HAVANA — A senior Cuban official sharply criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday for suggesting Cuba was stuck in the past, saying the only anachronistic element of the relationship is Washington’s half-century-old economic embargo.
Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said Obama was poorly informed if he thought Cuba had not changed in recent years. She said her country has always been willing to negotiate improved relations with the U.S.
“It’s unfortunate that President Obama continues to be poorly advised and ill-informed about the Cuban reality, as well as the sentiments of his own people who desire normalization of our relationship,” Vidal said in a statement sent to foreign media on the island.
She said Cuba was “changing and advancing,” a reference to economic and social reforms enacted in recent years under President Raul Castro.
In an interview with the Spanish news channel Telemundo broadcast Wednesday, Obama said his administration is open to better ties but that “it’s got to be a two-way street.”
He said Cuban jails are still filled with political prisoners and that the island’s leaders are clinging to a failed model.
“It’s time to join the 21st century,” he said. “It’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It’s another thing when your whole political ideology .. is 50 years or 60 years old and it’s been proven not to work.”
In recent years, Cuba has allowed for limited capitalism and legalized the real estate market, among other reforms, while insisting the changes did not constitute a break from its socialist model.
Among the measures getting the most attention was last month’s lifting of a longstanding requirement that islanders ask the government’s permission to travel abroad.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s request for a new passport was granted on Thursday. Last year she was denied a “white card,” or exit permit, when she tried to travel to Brazil for a film festival, something she says has happened to her about 20 times in recent years.
“Visas for (hashtag)Brazil and for the (hashtag)Schengen agreement nations arranged, they will be delivered to me next week,” Sanchez said on Twitter on Friday. The “Schengen area” is a region in Europe within which there are little or no border or visa controls between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France.
But Sanchez and others bemoaned the denial of passports to two other government opponents. Dissidents Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer were turned down under a clause that lets the government withhold travel papers to people facing legal cases, or for reasons of national security or public interest.
The men were among the 75 activists jailed in the 2003 “black spring” crackdown on dissent. While they were later freed, their release was conditional and technically are still serving long sentences.
Mixed in with the mutual recriminations between Obama and Vidal were the usual conditional affirmations of openness to dialogue.
In her rebuttal of Obama, Vidal says America “can always count on the willingness of the people and government of Cuba to work to advance bilateral relations.”
Obama, in his Telemundo interview, said that he could foresee improved ties during his second term if Cuba meets him half way.
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