“There are still enormous problems in our society, but democracy is the way that we solve them,” said Obama in his speech at the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater in the Cuban capital. “That’s how we got health care for more of our people. That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights, in gay rights.”
Obama described the decades-long U.S. embargo against Cuba as “a policy of isolation designed for the Cold War” that made “no sense in the 21st century.” He also discussed human rights.
“Every person should be equal under the law, every child deserves the dignity that comes with education and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads,” said Obama. “Citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.”
Cuban President Raúl Castro was among those who attended the speech that was televised live on Cuban television. His daughter, Mariela Castro, promotes LGBT-specific issues in Cuba as director of the National Center for Sexual Education.
Human rights overshadow historic trip
Concerns over Cuba’s human rights record have overshadowed Obama’s historic trip to the Communist island.
Cuban police on Sunday detained several members of the Ladies in White, a dissident group that holds weekly protests against the Castro government in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, hours before Obama and his family arrived in the country. Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights President Nelson Gandulla Díaz told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from the city of Cienfuegos that a police officer came to his home on March 18 and questioned him about whether he planned to leave the area during Obama’s trip.
Obama on Tuesday is scheduled to meet with Cuban dissidents and members of Cuban civil society before leaving for Argentina.
“Every person should be equal under the law,” said Obama in his speech. “Citizens should be free to speak their minds without fear.”
It remains unclear whether LGBT rights advocates will be among those who will meet with Obama in Havana.