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Raul Castro Says Much More Can Be Reached Without Blockade
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro gesture after a news conference in Havana March 21, 2016. 

Published 21 March 2016

Raul Castro said much more can be reached without the U.S. economic blockade and rejected any double standards on human rights violations.
Cuban President Raul Castro said Monday much more can be reached in Cuba-U.S. relations without the economic blockade.

"We've reached several agreements in health, environment and agriculture protection ... However, much more would be possible without the economic blockade,” President Castro said. 

OPINION: US Groups: Long, Proud History Supporting Cuban Revolution

Raul Castro gave these statements after holding a private meeting with his U.S. counterpart in Havana. 

The Cuban leader thanked the Obama administration for its position toward the blockade, but said it has not been enough. “We oppose to the double standard on human rights as well,” the Cuban president added. 

Meanwhile, Obama thanked Raul Castro for his hospitality, and said that it would have been “unimaginable” for more than 50 years to hear a U.S. president speak from Cuba.

He said the U.S. has expanded new flights, and begun resuming cruises and ferry services. President Obama also praised Cuban doctors who traveled to west Africa to combat Ebola.

President Raul Castro welcomed Monday his U.S. counterpart President Obama at the Revolution Palace in Havana, as part of the historic visit of a U.S. president to the island, the first in 88 years.

The Catholic Church helped facilitate the talks that led to the December 2014 announcement that the two countries would re-establish diplomatic relations.

President Obama landed at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport earlier on Sunday. He was met by a Cuban delegation that included Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The pair greeted each other before Obama left the airport grounds in his caravan.

After leaving the airport, the U.S. president then proceeded to meet with staff of the newly reopened U.S. Embassy at a Havana hotel.

In his first comments since arriving to Cuba, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his gratitude to the U.S. Embassy staff in Havana and shared his optimism at the prospects of a new U.S.-Cuba relationship.

"This is a historic visit and a historic opportunity,” said Obama.

Obama’s trip comes 15 months after he announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba after more than five decades. The change was initiated with a handshake between Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro in South Africa in 2013.

IN DEPTH: Obama's Historic Trip to Cuba

President Obama will spend two and half days in Cuba accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, their two daughters Malia and Sasha, and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. They will all stay at the U.S. ambassador's residence.

On Tuesday Obama is expected to address the Cuban people in a speech, and he will also meet with U.S.-backed activists before attending an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays.

In an official statement, the White House said Obama won’t meet with former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba have thawed under Obama, who has restored diplomatic relations and lifted several travel and trade restrictions.

However, despite the improved ties between both countries, there are pending issues that need to be solved in order to fully normalize relations. President Raul Castro has reiterated that the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay must be returned to Cuba and that the blockade that has been imposed on Cuba since 1960 needs to be removed.

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