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    Raúl Castro – Despite a new relationship with the U.S., Cuba’s revolution will continue

    Raúl Castro: Despite a new relationship with the U.S., Cuba’s revolution
    will continue
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
    12/20/2014 2:10 PM 12/20/2014 8:19 PM

    Despite U.S. promises of more trade and travel under renewed diplomatic
    ties with the communist island, Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday
    vowed his country would continue to make economic changes at its own
    pace and wouldn’t waver from its socialist model.

    “We shouldn’t expect that in order for relations to improve with the
    United States, Cuba is renouncing the ideas for which we have fought for
    more than a century and for which our people have spilled so much blood
    and run such great risks,” said Castro at the closing session of the
    National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament.

    Listening in the audience as Castro made his nationally televised
    address were the five convicted spies whose U.S. detention figured so
    prominently in the negotiations that led to the historic agreement
    between the United States and Cuba. Also present: Elián González, who
    was at the center of a bitter custody battle in 2000 between his Miami
    relatives and his father in Cuba.

    Castro’s speech came three days after the surprise announcement by Cuba
    and the U.S. that they would be restoring diplomatic relations as soon
    as details are worked out in the coming year.

    The United States broke off relations with Cuba on Jan. 3, 1961, just
    months after the Eisenhower administration imposed a partial trade
    embargo on Cuba that was later extended as hostilities between the two
    countries escalated.

    While President Barack Obama’s mantra during his year-end White House
    news conference Friday was engagement as a way to bring about change in
    Cuba, Castro’s was mutual respect.

    “We have always been willing to engage in respectful dialogue on equal
    terms to address any issues without a shadow over our independence and
    without renouncing a single one of our principles,” said Castro.

    “In the same way that we’ve never proposed that the Unites States change
    its political system, we will demand respect for ours,” Castro said to
    sustained applause.

    He noted that Obama has had to put up with “virulent criticism” from
    “forces opposed to the normalization of relations,” including
    Cuban-American legislators and anti-revolutionary groups.

    Hours after he spoke in Havana, about 250 people, including dissidents
    from the island and some of those Cuban-American legislators, rallied in
    Miami’s José Martí Park to renounce Obama as a traitor who wasn’t
    thinking of the Cuban people when the deal was struck with Cuba.

    Delfín González, Elian’s uncle, was among the protesters in Miami. “We
    feel betrayed once again,” he told the Nuevo Herald.

    Jorge Luis García Pérez, a Cuban dissident known as Antúnez, said Obama
    has sent “a message to my companions in the resistance that this country
    has turned its back on us.”

    Castro thanked Canada and Pope Francis for their roles in facilitating
    the high-level talks that led to the diplomatic breakthrough, which was
    announced Wednesday by Castro and Obama in nationally televised speeches.

    The day is “very important” for Cuba, Castro said, but “the essential
    thing is lifting the blockade,” the Cuban term for the decades-old
    embargo. He said he hoped that Obama would continue to use his
    presidential prerogative to make inroads against it.

    Responding to criticism that more market-oriented reforms are coming too
    slowly, Castro said that the speed of the reforms is something that is
    decided in Cuba. “It isn’t something we can do from one day to the next
    if we want success,” he said.

    Cuba’s economy is expected to grow by only 1.3 percent in 2014, but
    Castro said the economy began to pick up in the second half of the year.

    He acknowledged that Cuban salaries must increase, but said “first we
    have to increase wealth.” Raising salaries too fast without an increase
    in production, he said, could introduce inflation.

    Castro also said he appreciated the invitation from Panamanian President
    Juan Carlos Varela to attend the Summit of the Americas, which will be
    held in Panama City in April. “We will take part,” he said.

    Until the recent détente, Washington had long fought against Cuba’s
    inclusion but Latin American and Caribbean nations had become insistent
    that Cuba sit at the table. Castro said he was grateful for their
    “unanimous consensus” and solidarity.

    Castro also said the “Cuba people appreciate the just decision” of Obama
    to release Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, the
    three members of the Cuban Five who were still in U.S. prisons, in
    exchange for a CIA agent believed to be Rolando Sarraff and the
    humanitarian release of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross.

    Two other spies, René González, and Fernando González, had already
    returned to Cuba after completing lengthy prison terms.

    Known in Cuba as the Five Heroes, the spies infiltrated exile groups in
    South Florida to monitor potential terrorist threats against Cuba. They
    were convicted of a variety of charges related to the 1996 shootdown by
    Cuban military jets of two planes from South Florida and the deaths of
    four U.S. citizens who were aboard.

    In off-the-cuff remarks after the National Assembly session had
    officially closed, Castro noted the presence of Elián González in the
    audience. González, who was found adrift at sea after his mother
    perished while making the crossing from Cuba, was caught up in an
    international custody tug-of-war between his Miami relatives and his
    Cuban father.

    The Justice Department ordered the boy returned to his father. Federal
    agents seized him from his relatives’ Little Havana home and returned
    him to Cuba in June 2000.

    “Remember the fight for Elián?” asked Castro. He noted that the young
    man had just turned 21 and was in his fourth year of university studying
    engineering.

    Castro said he was very proud of him and asked him to come forward and
    stand with the Five Heroes. “A hug to all,” said Castro.

    As Cuba prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959
    triumph of the revolution, Castro added: “With a people like this, we
    should be able to reach the 570th year” of the revolution.

    And as the Cuban leader left the rostrum, he pumped his fist and said,
    “Viva Fidel! Patria o Muerte (Homeland or Death)!”

    Source: Raúl Castro: Despite a new relationship with the U.S., Cuba’s
    revolution will continue | The Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4731327.html