Raúl Castro addresses United Nations General Assembly; scheduled to meet Obama today
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Raúl Castro addresses United Nations General Assembly; scheduled to meet Obama today

Among the many heads of state who are scheduled to speak before the United Nations this week, there was one whose presence was highly anticipated, if underreported: Cuban president Raúl Castro.

Cuba won’t be “sidelined”

Castro has had quite a month, first welcoming Pope Francis on a three-city tour of Cuba and then hosting the most recent round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, a meeting that resulted in a peace treaty. His speech before the UN General Assembly on Monday was the latest assertion that Cuba will not continue to be sidelined in global politics.

In his address, Castro touched on a number of delicate issues, including what he referred to as “recolonization” of states and the “unacceptable militarization of cyberspace” as a front for covert dissemination of information and ideas intended to destabilize governments. The principal idea and goal upon which the United Nations was founded, Castro continued, “remains chimerical when 795 million people suffer from hunger, 781 million adults are illiterate, and 17,000 children die daily from curable diseases.”

He blamed the greed of developed nations and the poor allocation of resources on the failure of nations to achieve social parity and to ensure human rights for all, and he stated unequivocally his support for various Latin American neighbors, including Puerto Rico, which, he said, “deserves to be free and independent after more than a century of colonial domination.”

Shared goals

Picking up on many of the subjects Pope Francis addressed during his visits to Cuba and the United States, which also included an address before the United Nations, Castro addressed the urgency of climate change and the notion of working together on shared goals despite ideological differences.

Castro concluded his address with a direct reference to President Obama and the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations, a process that he described as “long and complex.” Mincing no words, President Castro called for the return of the territory currently occupied by the Guantánamo base, the cessation of radio and TV programs intended to “subvert and destabilize” Cuba, and the compensation of the Cuban people for “human and economic damage they still suffer.” He did not, however, attach a specific figure to that particular demand.

Whether these demands will be met remains in question, of course, but the issues are likely to be addressed again today, when Castro has a sideline meeting with President Obama today. It is the latest diplomacy effort between the leaders.

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Latin America shows up for Pope Francis’ first Mass in Cuba