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Obama suddenly slaps Cuba over human rights

March 24, 2010 |  4:20 pm

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President Obama took the unusual step Wednesday afternoon of issuing a special denunciation of Cuba's human rights policies, after a year of advocating improved relations after nearly a half-century of political estrangement with the island neighbor.

"Instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era," Obama said (full text below), "Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist."

As recently as last summer at a Caribbean summit, Obama and Raul Castro talked separately of opening discussions on a wide range of issues including human rights. The country's semi-retired revolutionary leader, brother Fidel Castro, had warm words when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the autumn.

But then in December the Cuban icon said Obama's warm smile could not be trusted.

Today, about seven months out from November's midterm elections, Obama responded.

The lack of response to Obama overtures from Iran have not prompted similar White House outbursts.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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President Obama's statement on Cuban human rights

Recent events in Cuba, including the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the repression visited upon Las Damas de Blanco, and the intensified harassment of those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans, are deeply disturbing.

These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist.

Today, I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression, for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people.

During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedoms that define the Americas, and that should be universal to all human beings.    ###

Photos: Associated Press; Reuters (Raul Castro).

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