HAVANA — Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday demanded that the United States respect Cuba’s communist rule as the two countries work toward normalizing diplomatic ties. 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.
U.S. officials will visit Havana in January to start talks on normalization, 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 Saturday he is open to discussing a wide range of issues but that they should also cover the United States and he stressed that Cuba would not be giving 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 Cuba’s National Assembly in a session that turned into a celebration of resistance to U.S. aggression.
The National Assembly also gave a standing ovation to the three men convicted of spying in the U.S. and were freed as part of the prisoner swap. Sitting behind them was Elian Gonzalez, who in 2000 became internationally known when a custody battle between his Cuban father and American relatives in Miami became a diplomatic incident.