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Cuban President Raul Castro is not used to taking questions from the press. But he agreed to today. It didn’t go well.
In a joint news conference following their meeting President Obama agreed to take two questions from U.S. media while Castro agreed to take one.
“I know that if I stay here, you’ll make 500 questions,” said an exasperated Castro near the end of the 55-minute event. “I said I was going to answer one. Well, I’ll answer one and a half.”
The two questions to the U.S. media went to CNN’s Jim Acosta and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Acosta is the son of a Cuban immigrant. Mitchell has been covering Cuba for decades and has interviewed Castro’s brother Fidel multiple times.
Acosta asked President Obama if he’s urged Castro to pursue “Democratic reforms and expand human rights.” Then, he asked Castro two questions, “Why do you have political prisoners?” and “Who do you prefer, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?” The answer to the second question was easier: Castro can’t vote in the U.S., so why choose?
To the first question, a fiery Castro shot back: “Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately. Just mention the list. What political prisoners? Give me a name, or names, and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.”
And that gets to the crux of all of this historic meeting. There are still many fundamental issues the U.S. and Cuba do not see eye to eye on. What the U.S. considers to be a political prisoner, is seen completely differently by the Cuban government.
When it came time for Mitchell to ask her question, President Obama actually coaxed Castro into answering. But that didn’t go so well either.
“She’s one of our most esteemed journalists in America and I’m sure she’d appreciate just a short brief answer,” said Obama.
“What is the future of our two countries, given the different definitions and the different interpretations of profound issues like democracy and human rights?” Mitchell asked.
“We cannot use the argument of human rights for political confrontation,” Castro said. “It is not fair, it is not correct. I’m not saying it is not honest. It’s part of confrontations of course. But let us work so that we can all comply with all human rights. It’s like talking about…” Castro trailed off, abruptly ending the news conference. “I’m going to end here because there is a commitment we should end on time. I think with this is enough.”