Raul Castro: Detente won’t change Cuban system

HAVANA — Three men who served long U.S. prison terms for spying received a standing ovation in Cuba’s parliament Saturday, shaking their fists in victory as President Raul Castro declared that detente with Washington won’t change the communist system he leads.

The last imprisoned members of the “Cuban Five” spy ring were freed this week in a sweeping deal that included the liberation of American contractor Alan Gross and a Cuban who had spied for the U.S. from their jail cells in Cuba as a first step toward the restoration of full diplomatic ties and a loosening of U.S. trade and travel restrictions.

U.S. President Barack Obama said efforts at engagement rather than isolation should encourage reform in Cuba’s one-party system and centrally planned economy.

Castro rejected that idea in his address to the twice-annual meeting of the National Assembly, saying “we must not expect that in order for relations with the United States to improve, Cuba will abandon the ideas that it has struggled for.”

Also digging in their heels Saturday were some Cuban exiles in Miami who had called for a mass protest against plans to normalize relations with the Castro government. About 200 people showed up before the speeches began, most of them older Cuban-Americans, and some expressed deep disappointment at the turnout.

At the parliament in Havana, Castro expressed gratitude to Obama for the “just decision” to release the men who spied on anti-Castro exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s and have long been regarded as heroes in Cuba. Seated behind the three and their families was Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban rafter at the center of a bitter custody battle in 2000 between relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba.

The president closed his speech with “Viva Fidel!” in reference to his older brother, who has not been seen nor heard from since the historic development was announced on Wednesday, provoking speculation about his health and whereabouts.

The executive orders Obama announced Wednesday can clear the way for limited exports to Cuba and freer travel by specific categories of Americans such as academics and artists, but he acknowledged his need to work with Congress to end the decades-old embargo Cuba blames for the dire condition of its infrastructure and economy.

Castro reminded Cubans that the embargo remains in place, particularly limits on international financial transactions that Cuba accuses of blocking its access to credit and international investment.

“An important step has been taken, but the essential thing remains, the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, which has grown in recent years particularly in terms of financial transactions,” he said.

Castro confirmed he would attend the Summit of Americas in Panama in April, where he is expected to have further discussions with Obama.

His address to the National Assembly follows surprise announcements by both presidents Wednesday that Cuba and the U.S. will reopen embassies and exchange ambassadors for the first time in more than 50 years.

Mower County

Warrant issued for Jeffer Lorenzo after he fails to show for sentencing

News

Unanimous Supreme Court preserves access to widely used abortion medication

News

Audit finds Minnesota agency’s lax oversight fostered theft of $250M from federal food aid program

Adams

Partnerships celebrated during community event for Mower, Fillmore solar installations

Mower County

Mayo Ambulance training program hopes to increase EMT numbers

Business

Workforce Development one of nine organizations to receive funding to train underrepresented workers for clean energy careers

News

Minneapolis police officer killed while responding to a shooting call is remembered as a hero

Mower County

Documentary follows AHS class across 50 years

Mower County

2024 Friendship Wagon Train coming to the area

Agriculture

New funding available for continuous living cover grants

Mower County

MDH inviting well users to seminar on nitrates

Mower County

In Your Community: May Sweeps winner claims her prize

Mower County

In Your Community: Final Bing-Oh prize claimed

Education

Austin junior achieves top ACT score of 36

Education

Education Briefs

News

President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, is convicted of all 3 felonies in federal gun trial

News

Biden, gun control advocates want to flip an issue long dominated by the NRA

News

Minnesota poll: Felony conviction should disqualify presidential candidates, most say

Mower County

APS board approves sanctioning boys volleyball

Education

Austin Seniors receive Horatio Alger Scholarships

Crime, Courts & Emergencies

Man sentenced to over eight years for criminal sexual conduct with a child

Grand Meadow

2 injured in Saturday afternoon crash

Mower County

Courtney’s bench: Family and friends honor loved one lost in hope to raise awareness for mental illness

Mower County

Summerset Theatre opens Season 56 with the musical ‘Annie’