Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba says U.S. must respect its communist system

    Cuba says U.S. must respect its communist system
    By Daniel Trotta

    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.

    U.S. 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 U.S. hostility as a triumph,
    especially the release of three Cuban intelligence agents who served
    long U.S. prison terms for spying on Cuban exile groups in Florida.

    U.S. officials will visit Havana in January to start talks on
    normalizing 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 U.S. 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.

    Castro confirmed he will take part in a Summit of the Americas in Panama
    in April, potentially setting up a first meeting with Obama since they
    shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral a year ago.

    That brief encounter drew wide attention. Unbeknownst to the world at
    the time, the United States and Cuba were already six month into secret
    talks set up with the help Pope Francis and the Canadian government.

    Castro’s older brother and retired leader Fidel Castro, 88, has not been
    seen or heard from since Obama’s announcement and he was not at the
    National Assembly on Saturday. Raul Castro ended his speech with an
    energetic “Viva Fidel!”

    The Assembly gave a long standing ovation to Cuba’s five “anti-terrorist
    heroes,” intelligence agents who spent between 14 and 16 years in U.S.
    prison for spying on Cuban exiles.

    Two had been released after serving their terms and the United States
    freed the final three on Wednesday as part of a prisoner swap.

    In return, Cuba freed U.S. aid subcontractor Alan Gross, who had been
    held for five years for bringing in banned telecommunications equipment,
    plus a Cuban who had spied for the United States and dozens of other
    unidentified prisoners.

    (Reporting by Daniel Trotta Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdés
    and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Kieran Murray)

    Source: Cuba says U.S. must respect its communist system – Yahoo News –
    http://news.yahoo.com/cuba-sees-long-struggle-ahead-u-lifts-embargo-155708548–sector.html;_ylt=AwrBEiJ1t5ZUpx0A3SLQtDMD