Cuba offers meeting with longtime foe US

July 26, 2012 6:41 pm

HAVANA, July 26 – Cuba’s communist regime Thursday marked 59 years since the launch of the revolt that led them to power, using the occasion to offer a meeting with longtime foe, the United States.

President Raul Castro, in his impromptu remarks at the close of the celebrations, also denounced opposition groups he compared to Libyan and Syrian rebels in the “Arab Spring.”

However, the president made no mention of the controversial death on Sunday of one of the island’s most famous dissidents, Oswaldo Paya.

The festivities were held at Guantanamo, just a few kilometers from the American naval base on the south-east end of the island.

Washington has demanded a “full and transparent investigation” of Paya’s death, which Cuban authorities say was a car accident. It has also denounced “the climate of repression in Cuba,” saying the communist government needs to do better at respecting international human rights, including free speech.

In his remarks Thursday, Castro offered to meet with US leaders to discuss any issues they have with his government or country.

“Any day they (Americans) want it, we will sit with them at a negotiating table,” the Cuban president proclaimed, clad in military dress.

But he insisted the conversation would go both ways: “Equal to equal, we will also discuss subjects concerning the United States.”

The Cuban leader also denounced what he said were small groups of dissidents who want to “recreate in Cuba what happened in Libya and Syria.” Libya’s long-time leader Moammar Ghadafi was overthrown last year by rebels with NATO support, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is waging a bloody campaign against rebels, with the US and other western nations demanding he step aside.

Paya, an engineer and a fervent Roman Catholic, was one of the first dissidents against the Castro regime to seek wholesale political and economic change. He won the European parliament’s Sakharov prize for human rights in 2002.

Cuban authorities say the 60-year-old died when his rental car went off the road and hit a tree. Another Cuban dissident in the car was also killed, but the vehicle’s two other occupants — political activists from Spain and Sweden — received only minor injuries.

The two Europeans remain in detention in Cuba Thursday and have not made any public statement about the accident.

July 26 is the anniversary of the 1953 attacks Fidel Castro and his supporters mounted against two military barracks. Although these first attacks were unsuccessful, they are considered the beginning of the armed struggle that ultimately led to Fidel Castro’s seizure of power on January 1, 1959.

His brother took over as head of state in 2006.


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