Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cuba challenges US to lift embargo 'even for a year'

Cuba challenges US to lift embargo 'even for a year'

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba challenged the United States Sunday to lift a
decades-old trade embargo "even for a year" to test its contention that
the island's leaders do not want the embargo lifted or normal relations
with Washington.

The challenge by National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcon was the
first official response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's April
9 charge that Fidel Castro and his brother President Raul Castro do not
want a transition to democracy or the restoration of US relations
severed in 1961.

Clinton told a university audience in Kentucky that the Castros "do not
want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization
with the United States because they would then lose all their excuses
for what hasn't happened in Cuba in the last 50 years."

Alarcon, speaking to reporters after casting his ballot in municipal
elections here, said, "If she really thinks that the blockade benefits
the Cuban government -- which she wants to undermine -- the solution is
very simple: that they lift it even for a year to see whether it is in
our interest or theirs."

Alarcon said there were things Clinton could do "with a stroke of the
pen" to improve relations, such as allowing visits by the wives of two
of five Cubans serving prison sentences in the United States for espionage.

President Barack Obama came into office seeking better relations with
Cuba, but after an initial thaw, tensions have set in again, most
recently over Cuba's treatment of dissidents.

Havana has accused Washington of waging a campaign to destabilize the
government. But it has come under fire internationally and from
activists inside Cuba since the February 12 death of dissident Orlando
Zapata in a prison hunger strike. A second dissident, Guillermo Farinas,
took up the hunger strike after Zapata's death.

The government has portrayed the municipal elections, which have been
held every two years since 1976, as evidence of public support for the
one-party state.

Although the Cuban Communist Party does not officially field candidates,
it supervises the process and ensures that no opponents of the
government are elected.

Turnout in previous elections have been as high as 95 percent, which the
authorities tout as a "victory of the Revolution."

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