HAVANA – President Raul Castro on Friday put on ice highly-anticipated plans to ease travel restrictions on Cubans, telling lawmakers the nation would not be pressured into moving too fast and citing continued aggression from the United States as the reason for his cautious approach.
Cuba has been awash in speculation the much-hated regulations, which prevent most Cubans from leaving the island, might be lifted during Friday’s session of the National Assembly. But Castro said the time still wasn’t right, despite a year of free-market reforms that has seen the communist government legalize a real estate market and greatly increase private business ownership.
“Some have been pressuring us to take the step … as if we were talking about something insignificant, and not the destiny of the revolution,” Castro said, adding that those calling for an end to the travel restrictions “are forgetting the exceptional circumstances under which Cuba lives, encircled by the hostile policy … of the U.S. government.”
Castro criticized U.S. President Barack Obama, saying he was the 11th American president since the 1959 revolution led by his brother Fidel, and appeared “not to understand” the sacrifices Cuba had made in its struggle for independence and sovereignty, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as Washington’s 49-year trade and travel embargo.
“Sometimes, he (Obama) gives the impression he has not even been informed of this reality,” Castro said, repeating his willingness to normalize relations with the U.S. under the right conditions.
Castro also announced an amnesty for 2,900 prisoners ahead of next year’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI, but a senior official told the Associated Press that jailed American subcontractor Alan Gross would not be among those freed.