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Castro: don’t expect us to turn away from socialism

CUBAN President Raul Castro sent a blunt message to Washington at the weekend, warning the US not to expect detente to affect Cuba’s socialist system.

Mr Castro’s speech to Cuba’s National Assembly was a clear response to the message US President Barack Obama had given in a news conference the day before.

The starry-eyed US president had claimed that by engaging directly with the Cuban people, the US was more likely to encourage political and economic change in Cuba.

But Mr Castro disagreed unequivocally: “We must not expect that in order for relations with the United States to improve, Cuba will abandon the ideas it has struggled for,” he said.

However, the Cuban president also expressed gratitude to Mr Obama, calling it a “just decision” to release the Miami Five, who were watching the speech from the public gallery, raising their fists in victory.

While Mr Castro’s Havana speech was directed at the White House, the message also reached right-wing expatriate Cubans in Miami who had planned a “mass demonstration” against plans to normalise relations.

More than 350 were arrested as thousands of reactionary Cubans marched in Miami in 2000 after US agents returned the young Elian Gonzalez to Cuba to resolve an international custody dispute.

But on Saturday only about 200 people showed up, most of them elderly Cuban exiles.

And a relaxed Mr Gonzalez, now a graduate of the socialist island’s military academy, was a happy supporter applauding Mr Castro’s speech in Havana.

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