During the press conference with Castro and Obama, the two men discussed their private meeting and in a shocking turn, Castro took questions from the assembled international press, a move the Cuban leader seemed to regret. The Obama family’s historic visit to Cuba has been widely lauded and criticized by political factions within the U.S., including Ted Cruz, who spoke out in a Politico op-ed today, calling the meeting between the two leaders a mistake, a message that “nobody has your back” for political prisoners in Cuba.
“You’re alone with your tormentors, the world has forgotten about you. [Political prisoners] will not be on TV, rubbing elbows with the Obamas, Raul Castro denies their very existence,” wrote Ted Cruz.
President Obama, during his historic visit to Cuba, told Raul Castro today that he predicts “the embargo will end,” but he can’t say for sure when that will happen. Just after, when the two leaders were getting along, CNN’s Jim Acosta took the opportunity to ask Raul Castro a pointed question about human rights and political prisoners, and Castro was knocked off balance by the question, as the Cuban leader is unaccustomed to speaking directly to an unfettered press corps.
“My father is Cuban. He left for the United States when he was very young. This is a new democratic direction for your country. Please sir, why do you have Cuban political prisoners and why don’t you release them?” asked CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Castro seemed shocked by the question, and had difficulty answering it. Politico reports that Castro asked the CNN reporter for a list of political prisoners, suggesting that Cuba didn’t have any. The press conference with Obama and Castro had previously been all about mutual cooperation, with a few disagreements here and there. The assembled press hadn’t expected that they’d be able to ask questions of the Cuban leader, and when they were given the opportunity, they really went for it.
“Did you ask if we had political prisoners? Did you ask if we had political prisoners?” Raul Castro asked, fumbling with his headphones after Acosta asked the question.
Castro bristled at the question, Mediaite reports, he was visibly uncomfortable and publicly denied that Cuba had any political prisoners at all. In fact, Castro promised to release any “political prisoners” if he was given a list of them.
“Give me a name or names, after this meeting is over you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if we have [them] they will be released before tonight ends,” Raul Castro replied, before cutting the press conference short.
Just after the testy interaction between Raul Castro and the international press, Castro muttered that the press conference was over, that Obama and Castro were out of time. Castro then awkwardly held up Obama’s hand and seemed confused over which side of the stage he was supposed to exit from. Obama grabbed Castro’s arm and led the way, smiling.
Prior to the awkward interaction between Castro, Obama, and the assembled press corps, Castro had criticized the United States for not offering universal healthcare to its citizens. Obama in turn, urged Cuba to recognize their citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association — three rights which have been curtailed severely in Communist Cuba, as evidenced by the recent arrest of peaceful protesters of the Castro regime, the “Damas de Blanco,” who were jailed just prior to the Obama visit.
The Damas de Blanco had gathered from all corners of Cuba ahead of Obama’s visit, in an effort to stand in solidarity with the political prisoners allegedly held by the Cuban regime –political prisoners whose existence Raul Castro denied today in an awkward interaction with a CNN reporter.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]