PRESIDENT OBAMA: Buenas tardes. President Castro, to you, the Cuban government and the Cuban people, thank you for the welcome that you have extended to me, to my family, and to my delegation. For more than half a century, the sight of a U.S. President here in Havana would have been unimaginable. But this is a new day — es un nuevo día — between our two countries.
With your indulgence, Mr. President, I want to go just briefly off topic because during this weekend, I received news that one of our outstanding United States Armed Service members, Marine Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin of Temecula, California, was killed in northern Iraq as we assisted the Iraqi government in dealing with ISIL, the terrorist organization there. And I just wanted to give my thoughts and prayers to the family there and those who have been injured. It’s a reminder that even as we embark on this historic visit, there are U.S. Armed Service members who are sacrificing each and every day on behalf of our freedom and our safety. So I’m grateful to them.
My wife, Michelle, and I brought our daughters — and by the way, they don’t always want to go with us; they’re teenagers now. They have friends at home and they have things to do — but they wanted to come to Cuba because they understood, and we wanted to show them, the beauty of Cuba and its people. We were moved by the Cubans who received us yesterday, smiling and waving, as we drove in from the airport. We were grateful for the opportunity to experience Old Havana — had some excellent Cuban food. Our visit to the Cathedral was a reminder of the values that we share, of the deep faith that sustains so many Cubans and Americans. And it also gave me an opportunity to express my gratitude to Cardinal Ortega, who, along with His Holiness Pope Francis, did so much to support the improved relations between our governments. This morning, I was honored to pay tribute to José Martí — not only his role in Cuban independence, but the profound words that he wrote and spoke in support of liberty and freedom everywhere.
I bring with me the greetings and the friendship of the American people. In fact, I’m joined on this trip by nearly 40 members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans. This is the largest such delegation of my presidency, and it indicates the excitement and interest in America about the process that we’ve undertaken. These members of Congress recognize that our new relationship with the Cuban people is in the interest of both nations. I’m also joined by some of America’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs because we’re ready to pursue more commercial ties, which create jobs and opportunity for Cubans and Americans alike.
And I’m especially pleased that I’m joined on this trip by so many Cuban Americans. For them, and for the more than two million proud Cuban Americans across the United States, this is a moment filled with great emotion. Ever since we made it easier to travel between our countries, more Cuban Americans are coming home. For many, this is a time of new hope for the future.
So, President Castro, I want to thank you for the courtesy and the spirit of openness that you’ve shown during our talks. At our meeting in Panama last year, you said that we’re willing to discuss every issue, and everything is on the table. So with your understanding, my statement will be a little longer than usual.
President Castro always jokes with me about how long Castro brothers’ speeches can be. But I’m going to actually go a little longer than you probably today, with your indulgence. We have a half a century of work to catch up on.
Our growing engagement with Cuba is guided by one overarching goal — advancing the mutual interests of our two countries, including improving the lives of our people, both Cubans and Americans. That’s why I’m here. I’ve said consistently, after more than five very difficult decades, the relationship between our governments will not be transformed overnight. We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights. And President Castro and I have had very frank and candid conversations on these subjects.
The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care. And perhaps most importantly, I affirmed that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation. Cuba is sovereign and, rightly, has great pride. And the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.
At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future. We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion. Indeed, I look forward to meeting with and hearing from Cuban civil society leaders tomorrow.
But as you heard, President Castro has also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people, and poverty and inequality and race relations. And we welcome that constructive dialogue as well — because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect, that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.
Part of normalizing relations means that we discuss our differences directly. So I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed to hold our next U.S.-Cuba human rights dialogue here in Havana later this year. And both of our countries will welcome visits by independent United Nations experts as we combat human trafficking, which we agree is a profound violation of human rights.
Even as we discuss these differences, we share a belief that we can continue to make progress in those areas that we have in common. President Castro, you said in Panama that “we might disagree on something today on which we would agree tomorrow.” And that’s certainly been the case over the past 15 months and the days leading up to this visit. And today, I can report that we continue to move forward on many fronts when it comes to normalizing relations.
We’re moving ahead with more opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and interact with the Cuban people. Over the past year, the number of Americans coming here has surged. Last week, we gave approval for individual Americans to come here for educational travel. U.S. airlines will begin direct commercial flights this year. With last week’s port security announcement, we’ve removed the last major hurdle to resuming cruises and ferry service. All of which will mean even more Americans visiting Cuba in the years ahead and appreciating the incredible history and culture of the Cuban people.
We’re moving ahead with more trade. With only 90 miles between us, we’re natural trading partners. Other steps we took last week — allowing the U.S. dollar to be used more widely with Cuba, giving Cubans more access to the dollar in international transactions, and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to earn salaries –- these things will do more to create opportunities for trade and joint ventures. We welcome Cuba’s important announcement that it plans to end the 10 percent penalty on dollar conversions here, which will open the door to more travel and more commerce. And these steps show that we’re opening up to one another.
With this visit, we’ve agreed to deepen our cooperation on agriculture to support our farmers and our ranchers. This afternoon, I’ll highlight some of the new commercial deals being announced by major U.S. companies. And just as I continue to call on Congress to lift the trade embargo, I discussed with President Castro the steps we urge Cuba to take to show that it’s ready to do more business, which includes allowing more joint ventures and allowing foreign companies to hire Cubans directly.
We’re moving ahead with our efforts to help connect more Cubans to the Internet and the global economy. Under President Castro, Cuba has set a goal of bringing Cubans online. And we want to help. At this afternoon’s entrepreneurship event, I’ll discuss additional steps we’re taking to help more Cubans learn, innovate, and do business online — because in the 21st century, countries cannot be successful unless their citizens have access to the Internet.
We’re moving ahead with more educational exchanges. Thanks to the generous support of the Cuban-American community, I can announce that my 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative will offer new opportunities for university students to study abroad — more Americans at Cuban schools and more Cubans at U.S. schools. And going forward, educational grants and scholarships will be available to Cuban students. And in partnership with the Cuban government, we’ll offer more English language training for Cuban teachers, both in Cuba and online.
Even as Cubans prepare for the arrival of the Rolling Stones, we’re moving ahead with more events and exchanges that bring Cubans and Americans together as well. We all look forward to tomorrow’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.
More broadly, we’re moving ahead with partnerships in health, science, and the environment. Just as Cubans and American medical teams have worked together in Haiti against cholera, and in West Africa against Ebola — and I want to give a special commendation to Cuban doctors who volunteered and took on some very tough assignments to save lives in West Africa in partnership with us and other nations. We very much appreciate the work that they did. Our medical professionals will now collaborate in new areas, preventing the spread of viruses like Zika and leading new research into cancer vaccines. Our governments will also work to protect the beautiful waters of this region that we share.
And as two countries threatened by climate change, I believe we can work together to protect communities and our low-lying coasts. And we’re inviting Cuba to join us and our Caribbean and Central American partners at this spring’s regional energy summit in Washington.
And finally, we’re moving ahead with our closer cooperation on regional security. We’re working to deepen our law enforcement coordination, especially against narco-traffickers that threaten both of our peoples. I want to thank President Castro and the Cuban government for hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC. And we remain optimistic that Colombians can achieve a lasting and just peace. And although we did not have an extensive discussion of Venezuela, we did touch on the subject. And I believe that the whole region has an interest in a country that is addressing its economic challenges, is responsive to the aspirations of its people, and is a source of stability in the region. That is, I believe, an interest that we should all share.
So again, President Castro, I want to thank you for welcoming me. I think it’s fair to say that the United States and Cuba are now engaged across more areas than any time during my lifetime. With every passing day, more Americans are coming to Cuba, more U.S. businesses and schools and faith groups are working to forge new partnerships with the Cuban people. More Cubans are benefitting from the opportunities that this travel and trade bring.
As you indicated, the road ahead will not be easy. Fortunately, we don’t have to swim with sharks in order to achieve the goals that you and I have set forth. As you say here in Cuba, “echar para adelante.” Despite the difficulties, we will continue to move forward. We’re focused on the future.
And I’m absolutely confident that if we stay on this course, we can deliver a better and brighter future for both the Cuban people and the American people.
Muchas gracias. Thank you very much.