Cuba is open to dialogue with the United States about all topics, including human rights, but only on the basis of equality, President Raul Castro said Thursday.
He made the offer during an impromptu address at a Revolution Day event in the eastern province of Guantanamo
Dressed in his olive green general’s uniform, Castro broke with his practice of the past two years by taking the opportunity of the July 26 holiday to speak out on both foreign and domestic policy.
“I have already said this through the existing diplomatic channels. If they want to talk, we will talk,” the president said, reiterating his willingness for discussions with Washington.
He added, however, that Havana will accept only a dialogue of equals, as Cuba is neither a colony nor a satellite.
Castro also denounced U.S.-backed “factions” for trying to create conditions in Cuba “so that someday what happened in Libya or what people are trying to do in Syria happens here.”
If the United States wants “confrontation” with Cuba, he said, “let it be only in baseball or in some kind of sport.”
Turning to domestic concerns, the president sought to assure Cubans that his government is fully aware of the “many difficulties” they face in their daily lives, including low pay.
The median salary in the Communist-ruled island is 450 pesos ($18), though Cubans benefit from free healthcare and education and subsidized prices for many items.
The prerequisite for boosting pay is increasing output and productivity, Castro said in Guantanamo.
“We have to move forward, at the pace we Cubans decide, without haste but without cease, little by little,” he said.
Raul Castro, who formally succeeded ailing older brother Fidel in 2008, has significantly expanded the scope for self-employment and small business, authorized the private buying and selling of homes and vehicles and taken other cautious steps toward economic liberalization.
The ceremony in Guantanamo marked the 59th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s failed July 26, 1953, attack on the Moncada army barracks, a defeat the Communist regime venerates as the start of the revolution that brought it to power in 1959.