By Beatriz Juez (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — President Barack Obama said today he is confident that changes in Cuba will result from the new policy of his country towards the island and supports ending the embargo, but warned that this will not happen soon.
“Change will come to Cuba, it has to come,” Obama said in his year end press conference, two days after announcing the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century of rupture and ideological confrontation between Washington and Havana.
The US president said it is logical that there will be changes on the island because “they have an economy that does not work.” “They relied in the early years on the Soviet Union and after Venezuela. And these (subsidies) cannot be maintained.”
“It could happen fast or it could happen slower than I’d like, but it will happen,” said Obama, who believes that the new US policy toward Cuba will accelerate the process.
However, the president warned that these changes on the island “are not going to happen overnight.”
The president said he “shares the concerns of dissidents and human rights activists” of the island, because “this is still a regime that represses its people.”
Before going on vacation, Obama acknowledged that the policy of isolation on the island conducted by his predecessors has failed, noting that after more than half a century of imposing the embargo, the Castro brothers remain in power.
“If you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome, and this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome,” said Obama.
The president predicted that process of change on the island will certainly have its snags but he is convinced that with the new US policy toward Cuba “we will have a better chance of achieving change than we would have had otherwise.”
Obama said it is too early to think about visiting Havana or Castro making a trip to Washington and hinted his desire to go the island in the future, suggesting that it would be after his term as president, which ends in two years.
“I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in,” Obama said. “But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.”
The president acknowledged that Congress is divided over his new policy toward Cuba. “There are supporters and detractors in both parties of our new approach,” admitted the president, who was confident that Congress will hold “a healthy debate” on whether or not to lift the economic and commercial embargo on Cuba.
Obama will face stiff opposition in Congress, especially by the congress people and senators of Cuban origin. Senators Bob Menendez, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio oppose any concession to the Castro brothers, likewise representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. All are of Cuban origin.
There is also resistance among part of the Cuban-American community in Florida, an important swing state in recent presidential elections.
On Wednesday, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the start of talks for the normalization of bilateral relations between the two countries, which were broken off since 1961. In addition, Havana freed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds and both countries made a prisoner exchange including the US release of the remaining three imprisoned of the Cuban Five. Cuba released a CIA operative that had been in jail on the island for nearly two decades.