Obama 'always' ready to change Cuba policy
Washington - US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he would always be ready to change tough policy towards Cuba, but needed evidence from the communist state it was ready to reform.
Obama, in an internet roundtable with questions posed by Hispanic journalists, said his gradual easing of some US restrictions on Cuba had been intended to hint at steps that could follow if Havana stepped away from a "Cold War" mentality.
"Throughout Latin America, democracies have emerged from previously authoritarian regimes. The time has come for the same thing to happen in Cuba," Obama said, in an event simultaneously translated into Spanish.
"As long as I'm president, I will always be prepared to change our Cuba policy if and when we start seeing a serious intention on the part of the Cuban government to provide liberty for its people," Obama said.
"Hopefully, over the next five years, we will see Cuba looking around the world and saying, we need to catch up with history."
Obama said that before he would act, he wanted to see action from Cuba on releasing political prisoners and on providing people with basic human rights.
"So far, at least, what we haven't seen is the kind of genuine spirit of transformation inside of Cuba that would justify us eliminating the embargo," he said.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez rejected Obama's offer as "old and repetitive".
"There has always been a deep gap between what president Obama says and real events, not only regarding Cuba," said Rodriguez, currently travelling in Brazil.
"President Obama - between the two or three wars that he is waging, given the domestic economy's crisis situation, and faced with the voracity of the right wing of the Republican Party - evidently does not have time to know what is going on in Cuba," Rodriguez said.
The US embargo on Cuba was first partially imposed in 1960 - just after Fidel Castro staged his revolution - and remains in force with the United States banning most trade and most travel to the Caribbean island.
In 2009, Obama reversed some restrictions on immediate family travel and allowed Cuban Americans to send remittances to relatives. Some direct flights are also allowed. But he cannot lift the embargo without Congress's approval.
Rodriguez's statement was in line with those of Fidel Castro, who on Monday blasted Obama's speech to the United Nations as "gibberish" and said the US president used a rambling address to justify the "unjustifiable".