HAVANA TIMES — In his last State of the Union address today, US President Barack Obama asked Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba to “consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere,” reported dpa news.
Obama defended his decision in July to restore bilateral relations with Cuba, after half a century of rupture and ideological confrontation between Washington and Havana.
The President recalled that the policy of isolation of the island, carried out by his ten predecessors in the White House, not only failed to promote democracy on the island, but hindered Washington’s relations with Latin America.
“Do you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere?” Obama asked lawmakers. “Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo,” Obama told the Republican-dominated Congress.
Experts on both sides of the Florida Straits say there can be no real normalization of relations between Washington and Havana until the United States lifts the embargo.
Although Obama has taken several steps to relax some restrictions, he cannot lift the embargo by executive order. Only Congress, where the Republicans have a sizeable majority, can lift the ban entirely.
Obama also used his State of the Union address to call for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention camp. “It is expensive, unnecessary and only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies,” he stressed.
The president has repeatedly promised to close the infamous prison before leaving the White House in January 2017. The off-shore facility was created by President George W. Bush to hold war prisoners detained in the war in Afghanistan and suspected members of Al Qaeda. The Republican Congress has thus far resisted the closure.
Despite the demands of Havana, Washington has no intention of returning the land occupied by the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, even if Obama manages to finally close the prison.
Obama speech today to both houses of Congress was his last State of the Union. He called on Americans to embrace change and not fear the future, in an optimistic speech contrasting with the apocalyptic messages of some Republican candidates on the country’s future.