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Manuel Marrero Cruz has been appointed by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel as the country’s first prime minister in more than 40 years.

The post of prime minister was scrapped in 1976 by the then revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

It was reinstated under the rules of a new constitution for the communist-run island passed earlier this year.

Manuel Marrero Cruz, 56, a former tourism minister, will take on some of the responsibilities that currently fall to the president.

“The head of government will be the administrative right hand of the president of the republic,” state-run online news outlet Cubadebate said.

However, critics say any such changes are purely cosmetic as the Cuban Communist Party and the military remain the only two real decision-making institutions on the country.

Cuba and Google Sign Internet Access Deal

US Abstains for First Time in UN Annual Vote Against Cuba Embargo

Manuel Marrero Cruz’s appointment was ratified unanimously by deputies in the National Assembly on December 21.

The state newspaper Granma described Manuel Marrero Cruz as a politician who had emerged “from the base” of the tourism industry, one of Cuba’s main sources of foreign exchange.

In 2000, Manuel Marrero Cruz was made president of the military-run Gaviota tourism group, whose hotels are subject to US sanctions under the Trump administration.

He was named tourism minister in 2004 by Fidel Castro and has since overseen a major boost in tourism to the island.

It is unclear if he Manuel Marrero Cruz will now remain head of the tourism ministry.

Cuban business owners have appealed to Donald Trump not to reverse a recent thaw in bilateral relations.

In a letter, more than one hundred business owners said additional measures to boost travel, trade and investment would benefit both nations.

The president-elect, who takes office on January 20, has said he will end a deal under which ties were restored in 2015 unless Havana offers a “better deal”.

Cuba hopes to sign 12 agreements with the United States before Donald Trump’s inauguration.

On December 7, officials from both governments held talks in Havana to discuss how this could be achieved during President Barack Obama’s remaining weeks in office.

Cuban Foreign Ministry’s Director of US Affairs Josefina Vidal said: “At the moment we are negotiating 12 more [agreements] with the aim to be able to conclude and sign a majority of them.”

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Josefina Vidal said that a number of agreements had already been signed with Washington since 2015.

She also expressed hopes that the bilateral relations would continue improving but “within the respect of the existing differences and without having to make any kind of concession to the principles in which Cuba firmly believes”.

Barack Obama has worked to improve relations with Cuba, culminating in his historic visit to Havana in March 2016.

In November, Donald Trump threatened in a tweet to put an end to the detente following the death of Fidel Castro.

He said that if “Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal”.

Donald Trump’s camp accuses the Obama administration of giving too much away to Cuba without receiving enough in return.

Under President Barack Obama, diplomatic ties were restored in July 2015 after being severed in 1961.

Some trade restrictions have been eased and the White House has been lobbying the US Congress to terminate the Cuban economic embargo that has been in place for decades.


Pope Francis said the death of Fidel Castro was “sad news”, and that he was grieving and praying for his repose.

In a message in Spanish to Cuban President Raul Castro, Pope Francis said: “I express to you my sentiments of grief.”Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

Pope Francis met Fidel Castro during a visit to Cuba in September 2015.

Fidel Castro was a self-professed atheist but as a child he attended Catholic schools in Santiago before going on to the Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belen in Havana.

The former Cuban president and leader of communist revolution died on November 25 at the age of 90.

Fidel Castro’s death was announced last night by his brother, Raul.

Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, has announced in an unexpected late night broadcast on state TV.

Raul Castro said: “The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening.”

Fidel Castro was Cuba’s former president and leader of the Communist revolution.

He ruled the country as one-party state for almost 50 years before Raul Castro took over in 2008.

Rau Castro’s supporters said he had given Cuba back to the people. But he was also accused of suppressing opposition.

Ashen and grave, the president told the nation that Fidel Castro had died and would be cremated on November 26.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

There would now be several days of national mourning in Cuba.

Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro was Washington’s bête noire.

An accomplished tactician on the battlefield, Fidel Castro and his small army of guerrillas overthrew the military leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 to widespread popular support.

Within two years of taking power, Fidel Castro declared the revolution to be Marxist-Leninist in nature and allied Cuba firmly to the Soviet Union.

Yet, despite the constant threat of a US invasion as well as the long-standing economic embargo on Cuba, Fidel Castro managed to maintain a communist revolution in a nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Despised by his critics as much as he was revered by his followers, Fidel Castro outlasted ten US presidents and defied scores of attempts on his life by the CIA.

In April 2016, Fidel Castro gave a rare speech on the final day of Cuba’s Communist Party congress.

He acknowledged his advanced age but said Cuban communist concepts were still valid and the Cuban people “will be victorious”.

“I’ll soon be 90,” he said, adding that this was “something I’d never imagined”.

“Soon I’ll be like all the others, to all our turn must come,” Fidel Castro said.

Fidel Castro temporarily handed over the power to his brother in 2006 as he was recovering from an acute intestinal ailment.

Raul Castro officially became Cuba’s president in 2008.


Cuba’s ex President Fidel Castro has made a rare public appearance at an event to mark his 90th birthday on Saturday, August 13.

Fidel Castro appeared at a gala in Havana’s Karl Marx Theatre with his brother, President Raul Castro, and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

In his first public appearance since April, Fidel Castro appeared frail and remained seated during the event.

Fidel Castro, who stood down in 2008, had earlier attacked President Barack Obama in a newspaper column.Fidel Castro criticizes US before embassy reopening

The former Cuban leader criticized President Obama for not apologizing to the people of Hiroshima for the nuclear bomb dropped there by the US in World War Two.

Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May.

Fidel Castro wrote: “He lacked the words to ask for forgiveness for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Ties between the United States and Cuba have been restored under Raul Castro’s presidency, but after a visit by Barack Obama to Havana in March, Fidel Castro wrote that “we don’t need the empire to give us anything”.

The gala in Havana focused on key moments of Fidel Castro’s life, including the CIA-backed invasion attempt in the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

A large street party was also held in Havana on August 12, and fireworks exploded when the clock hit midnight.


The 90th birthday of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has been marked by a veteran cigar maker with what is believed to be the world’s longest cigar.

The masterpiece is 90 meters long and took 10 days to create with the help of several assistants.

Photo Wikipedia

Photo Wikipedia

The cigar was presented on long tables in an old colonial fort overlooking the harbor of Havana.

Jose Castelar and his team worked 12 hours a day for 10 days to roll the cigar, which is the width of an ordinary one.

The length of the cigar was verified by a British Embassy official, who said the information would be sent to be verified by Guinness World Records.

Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926. He governed the Republic of Cuba as prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as president from 1976 to 2008.


Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has broken his silence over President Barack Obama’s Cuba visit in a damning letter published in state-run newspaper Granma.

Fidel Castro, who handed power to his brother Raul a decade ago, said Cuba didn’t need any gifts from the “empire”.

He described Barack Obama’s words of reconciliation as “syrupy” and warned they could give Cubans a heart attack.

President Barack Obama had suggested that it was time to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.Fidel Castro about Barack Obama visit to Cuba

In his 1,500-word letter, Fidel Castro also reminded readers of the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, in which a CIA-sponsored paramilitary force of Cuban exiles attempted to take over the island.

However, Fidel Castro also said his “modest suggestion” was that Barack Obama “reflects and doesn’t try to develop theories about Cuban politics”.

During his visit, Barack Obama invoked “a future of hope” for Cuba in an unprecedented live TV address delivered from the Grand Theater in Havana.

Barack Obama told Cuban President Raul Castro that he did not need to fear a threat from the US nor from “the voice of the Cuban people”.

The US president also called for the lifting of the 54-year old US trade embargo against Cuba, a remark which was met by loud applause.

The embargo remains one of the main sticking points in US-Cuban relations but can only be lifted by the US Congress.

Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba was the first by a president since the Communist revolution in 1959.


The US flag has been raised over the reopened embassy in Cuba after more than 54 years since it was closed.

The reopening of the US embassy in Havana is a symbolic step signaling the warming of ties between both countries.

John Kerry, who presided over the ceremony in Havana, is the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.

The US flag was presented by the same US marines who brought it down in 1961.

Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington in July.

However, issues remain, with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasting the US for not lifting its trade embargo.

In an open letter on August 13, Fidel Castro said the US owed Cuba millions of dollars because of its 53-year-long embargo. The letter makes no mention of today’s reopening of the US embassy.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

John Kerry described the hoisting of the flag as a “historic moment” speaking during the ceremony on August 14.

He also warned that the US would not stop pressing for political change in Cuba.

“The people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,” John Kerry told a crowd of hundreds gathered outside the embassy building.

In the past, John Kerry conceded, US policies have not led to democracy.

“Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape,” he added.

Three retired marines who lowered the American flag for the last time on January 4, 1961, handed it over to marines to raise it once again in Havana as the American national anthem played.

Cuban leader Raul Castro and President Barack Obama agreed to restore ties in December 2014.

While trade and travel restrictions have been relaxed, the Republican-led US Congress has not lifted the trade embargo the US imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo – which it calls a blockade – is hugely damaging to its economy.

It says relations will be fully restored only once it is lifted.

Fidel Castro’s open letter was published in state newspaper Granma to mark his 89th birthday.


Francois Hollande has arrived in Havana to meet former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on a historic trip to the Communist island.

The French president is using the one-day trip to Cuba to build business and diplomatic relations five months after a detente between Havana and Washington.

Fidel Castro and Francois Hollande’s meeting was due at 15:00 local time on May 11, away from TV cameras, said the Elysee Palace.

Francois Hollande is the first French president to visit Cuba since 1898.

Speaking at the University of Havana, Francois Hollande said France would do its utmost to ensure that “the measures which have so badly harmed Cuba’s development can finally be repealed”.Francois Hollande in Cuba

Francois Hollande was referring to the US trade embargo with Cuba, which remains in place, although relations between the US and Cuba have improved in recent months.

He was due to meet his current Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro’s brother and successor Raul, later on Monday evening.

The visit is the first trip by a Western head of state to the Communist island since the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the US was announced in December 2014.

Francois Hollande announced plans to double the number of scholarships to enable Cuban students to continue their studies in France, as part of attempts to increase academic and scientific co-operation between the two nations.

Earlier on Monday, Francois Hollande bestowed France’s highest award, the Legion of Honour, on the head of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The Cuban Catholic Church has acted as a mediator between dissidents and the Communist government.

Unlike some other European countries, France has long maintained reasonably good relations with Cuba and wants to benefit from the new economic openness.

After landing at Havana airport, Francois Hollande said the visit was a moment of “great emotion”.

Before arriving, Francois Hollande told reporters that France sought to “be the first among European nations, and the first among Western nations, to be able to say to the Cubans that we will be at their side if they decide themselves to take needed steps toward opening up”.

A number of high-ranking US and European politicians have visited Cuba since December 17, when the US and Cuba announced they would move towards re-establishing diplomatic ties.

They include New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini and top diplomats from Japan and Russia.


Fidel Castro made his first public appearance in more than a year on Monday, March 30, greeting a delegation of Venezuelans, official media reported on April 4.

The 88-year-old former Cuban appeared to be full of vitality, official media reported.

It was his first known appearance outside his home since Cuba in December agreed to normalize relations with the US, Fidel Castro’s longtime adversary.

Official media showed images of a seated Fidel Castro shaking hands with the visiting Venezuelans through the window of his vehicle, wearing a baseball cap and a windbreaker.

Photo Miami Herald

Photo Miami Herald

There was no explanation why five days passed before the encounter was reported in Cuba.

Fidel Castro met at a school with 33 Venezuelans, who were on a solidarity mission to Cuba, for about 90 minutes. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, oil-rich Venezuela has become Communist Cuba’s closest ally and chief benefactor.

The former leader impressed the Venezuelans with a firm, long handshake and a lucid mind, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported in a writer’s first-person account.

Fidel Castro relayed “multiple details about life in Venezuela, especially now that this great nation has become the bull’s eye for imperial greed,” the report said, in apparent reference to U.S. sanctions on Venezuela that declared the South American nation a national security threat.

“Fidel is full of vitality,” the report said.

Fidel Castro’s last previous public sighting came on January 8, 2014, at the opening of a Havana cultural center sponsored by one of his favorite Cuban artists, Alexis Leyva, alias Kcho.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s younger brother, announced they would re-establish diplomatic ties, opening a new era in the previously turbulent relations that arose after the Castros came to power in 1959.

Fidel Castro stepped down due to illness provisionally in 2006 and definitively in 2008, handing off to his younger brother Raul, now 83. Fidel Castro writes an occasional newspaper column, receives dignitaries at home, and rarely appears in public.

His current role in policy-making is unknown. Many Cubans presume Raul Castro consults with his brother on major decisions, and Fidel Castro’s long silence after the December announcement raised questions about his health and whether he agreed with the rapprochement with the Americans.

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Fidel Castro’s revolutionary lover, Natalia Revuelta, has died at the age of 89 in Havana.

Natalia Revuelta, a Cuban socialite, emptied her bank account and sold her jewelry to support Fidel Castro when he was planning his insurgency.

She caught the eye of Fidel Castro when he was a young revolutionary in 1952.

Fidel Castro used her home for meetings when he was plotting the start of the revolution.

They later had an affair that produced a daughter, Alina, but they never married.

Natalia Revuelta, known as Naty Revuelta, was considered one of the most beautiful women in Cuba.Natalia Revuelta Fidel Castro

Blonde and green-eyed, Natalia Revuelta was a noticeable figure in Havana’s social scene when she met Fidel Castro in 1952.

She was married at the time to a heart surgeon nearly twenty years her senior but observers said she appeared to have had an appetite for revolution and adventure.

Natalia Revuelta allowed Fidel Castro to use her home for meetings when he was beginning to plot his insurgency.

She handed over all her savings to support Fidel Castro’s movement and later pawned her sapphires, emeralds and diamond jewelry for his cause.

The couple never married and Fidel Castro initially refused to recognize his daughter.

When he did, the girl was 12 years old and struggled to reconcile with her natural father.

In 1993, Alina Fernandez Revuelta left Cuba disguised as a Spanish tourist to live in the US.

Although Natalia Revuelta had little contact with Fidel Castro once their affair was over, she remained in Cuba holding various government jobs.

In an interview Naty Revuelta once said she was never bitter that Fidel Castro put his revolutionary project first. She also said: “It took years to get him out of my heart.”

Fidel Castro had many out-of-wedlock affairs – one, briefly, with the famous Ava Gardner and others with not-so-famous beauties such as Marita Lorenz. But the most fascinating, by far, was the one with Naty Revuelta because it is that prism that provides the deepest insight into the historic figure known as Fidel Castro.


Cuban leader Raul Castro has demanded the US hand back the Guantanamo Bay military base before relations with Washington are normalized.

In a speech, President Raul Castro also called for the lifting of the US trade embargo and Cuba’s removal from a terror list.

Last month Cuba and the US announced a thaw in relations, agreeing to restore diplomatic ties which were severed in 1961.

High-level talks were held last week.

A Congressional delegation arrived in Havana to begin negotiations aimed at reopening embassies in the two countries’ capitals.

Meanwhile, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared to signal his approval for the political rapprochement.

Cuba’s state-run newspaper Gramma published a letter on January 27 in which he wrote: “We will always defend co-operation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.”

He wrote that although he did not “trust the policy of the US”, it did not mean he rejected a “peaceful solution to conflicts”.Barack Obama and Raul Castro

Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, who succeeded him as president in 2008, made his demands at the summit of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica.

“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations,” he said.

“But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”

The land on which the base stands was leased to the US government in 1903 by Cuba’s then-rulers.

US officials have so far not responded to Raul Castro’s remarks.

President Barack Obama has called on Congress to put an end to the trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962.

Earlier this month President Barack Obama also used his executive powers to loosen trade and restrictions on travel to Cuba.


Former Cuban President Fidel Castro appears to have given tacit approval to the recent decision by Cuba and the US to restore diplomatic relations.

In a letter, Fidel Castro wrote: “I don’t trust the policy of the US, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a peaceful solution to conflicts.”

These were Fidel Castro’s first comments since December’s historic move by Cuba and the US after decades of hostilities.

High-level talks were held last week.Fidel Castro breaks silence on Cuba-US thaw

In the letter published by the state-run newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro, 88 wrote: “We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.”

The former leader appeared to be backing decisions taking by his younger brother Raul Castro – the current Cuban president who succeeded him in 2008.

Fidel Castro, the letter stated, “has taken the pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly the Communist Party of Cuba”.

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Cuba’s President Raul Castro has stressed that Havana will not change its political system after recent US move to normalize bilateral relations.

Raul Castro also warned that Cuba faced a “long and difficult struggle” before the US removed its economic embargo.

On December 17, President Barack Obama announced a “new chapter” in US ties with communist-run Cuba.

He said the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

US-Cuba relations have remained frozen since the early 1960s, when the US broke off diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo after Cuba’s revolution.

Speaking in the National Assembly in Havana, President Raul Castro said this week’s announcement by Barack Obama removed an “obstacle” in bilateral relations.Raul Castro Cuba US ties

Raul Castro, the brother of former leader Fidel Castro, said he was open to discussing a wide range of issues with Washington, but stressed that Cuba would not give up its socialist principles.

“In the same way that we have never demanded that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.”

Raul Castro added that Cuba had to go through a “long and difficult struggle” before the decades-old US economic embargo would be lifted.

Announcing the normalization of diplomatic and economic ties, President Barack Obama said Washington’s approach towards Cuba was “outdated”.

As part of the deal, US contractor Alan Gross and an unnamed intelligence officer loyal to the US were released from Cuban prison in return for three Cubans held in the US.

Barack Obama also said he wanted to reopen a US embassy in Havana in the coming months.

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The US historic move to end more than 50 years of hostility towards Cuba and restore diplomatic relations has been welcomed by world leaders.

Pope Francis joined leaders from Latin America and Europe in praising the “historic” deal which saw the release of prisoners from both countries.

However, dozens of dissident Cubans oppose the move, which some Republicans have labeled a “retreat” by the US.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s.

President Barack Obama said the “rigid and outdated policy” of isolating Cuba since then had clearly failed and that it was time for a new approach.

President Raul Castro, meanwhile, has urged the US to ends its trade embargo, which has been in place since the Cuba turned to Communism more than 50 years ago.

Power to lift the embargo, which Raul Castro says has caused “enormous human and economic damage”, lies with the US Congress, and correspondents say many Republicans are still deeply opposed to this.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Leading the praise, Pope Francis sent “warm congratulations” to Barack Obama and Raul Castro for overcoming “the difficulties which have marked their recent history”.

The announcement followed more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the pontiff.

The EU, which is in the process of normalizing ties with Cuba, described the move as a “historical turning point”, while leaders meeting at a Latin America summit in Argentina broke into applause at the news.

Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz hailed it as “the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas”.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, whose predecessor Hugo Chavez was a close ally of Fidel Castro, said it was a “moral victory” and “victory for Fidel”.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said increased US engagement in Cuba in the future should “encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people”.

Canadian PM Stephen Harper, whose country never broke off ties with Cuba, welcomed what he called the “overdue development”.

However, the move was not applauded by everyone, with dozens of Cubans living in exile in the US state of Florida protesting after the announcement on December 17.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio slammed the deal as “inexplicable”, adding that it did nothing to address the issues of Cuba’s political system and human rights record.

As part of the deal, US contractor Alan Gross, 65, was released from Cuban prison in return for three Cubans held in the US.

President Barack Obama said the US was looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months.

Officials said that Barack Obama and Fidel Castro spoke by telephone on December 16 for nearly an hour – the first presidential-level talks between the two nations since Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

In exchange for Alan Gross, who was in poor health, and an unnamed American intelligence officer, Washington released three members of the so-called “Cuban Five” who were serving lengthy sentences for espionage.

Alan Gross’s five-year imprisonment had undermined previous attempts to thaw diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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Former revolutionary fighter Huber Matos – the only exiled dissident among the original leaders of the 1959 Cuban revolution – has died in Miami at the age of 95.

Huber Matos was arrested in 1960 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for sedition.

Human rights groups campaigned for his case until his release and expulsion from Cuba in 1979.

Huber Matos eventually settled in Florida after a period in Costa Rica, where his remains are to be taken after a funeral in Miami.

He fought the troops of General Fulgencio Batista in 1959 alongside Fidel Castro but later fell out with the communist leader.

Huber Matos was the only exiled dissident among the original leaders of the 1959 Cuban revolution

Huber Matos was the only exiled dissident among the original leaders of the 1959 Cuban revolution

A statement released by relatives said Huber Matos had died on February 27 at Miami’s Kendall Regional Hospital of a massive heart attack he had suffered two days earlier.

The former revolutionary fighter’s funeral will be in Miami on Sunday before his remains are taken to Costa Rica, as he had wished.

Born in Yara in 1918, Huber Matos graduated as a teacher in Santiago, before pursuing a PhD in the capital, Havana.

The first time Costa Rica welcomed him was in 1957, when he had to leave Cuba because of his opposition of the rule of Gen. Fulgencio Batista.

Huber Matos is thought to have been instrumental in the Cuban insurrection by Fidel Castro’s Sierra Maestra rebels by smuggling the weapons they used from Costa Rica

When Huber Matos stepped down as a rebel military commander, Fidel Castro ordered his arrest.

Sentenced to 20 years in prison for sedition, he was released in 1979 and immediately left for San Jose, Costa Rica.

Huber Matos eventually settled in Miami, where he became involved in Cuban politics as he considered the government led by Fidel and Raul Castro a “dictatorship”.

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Cuba’s President Raul Castro has called for “civilized relations” with the US, saying the two countries should respect their differences.

Raul Castro said the US should drop its demand for regime change on the communist-run island.

That would allow both sides to continue work on improving relations, the president said.

Raul Castro’s comments follow a public handshake with President Barack Obama at the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela in South Africa earlier this month.

In a rare public speech, Raul Castro said Cuban and American officials had met several times over the last year to discuss practical matters, such as immigration and the re-establishment of a postal service.

That shows that relations can be civilized, Raul Castro explained.

 President Raul Castro has called for "civilized relations" with the US

President Raul Castro has called for “civilized relations” with the US

However, he warned: “If we really want to make progress in bilateral relations, we have to learn to respect each other’s differences and get used to living peacefully with them. Otherwise, no. We are ready for another 55 years like the last.”

The US broke off relations with in 1961 after the revolution and maintains an economic embargo against the island.

“We do not ask the United States to change its political and social system, nor do we agree to negotiate over ours,” Raul Castro told legislators at the closing session of the parliament in the capital, Havana.

Raul Castro, 82, took over from his brother, Fidel, in 2006. Fidel Castro had serious health problems and was never able to come back to power. Two years later, he resigned and transferred control permanently to Raul Castro.

He has since carried out a programme of economic reforms, which has helped efforts for relations with the US to be improved.

But critics say the pace of change has been too slow.

“The reform process in Cuba cannot be rushed or it will lead to failure,” Raul Castro warned.

Among the most recent changes announced by Raul Castro is the end of restrictions on private individuals to buy new and second hand cars.

Anyone with enough money will be allowed to order the vehicles from a government dealer.

Until now, only those who were given a previous government authorization were allowed to buy cars in Cuba.

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The White House said President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro’s handshake at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was unplanned.

White House aide Ben Rhodes told reporters the two exchanged no words more substantive than a greeting.

The Cuban government said the gesture may show the “beginning of the end of the US aggressions”.

The US broke off diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 as Fidel Castro aligned with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

On Tuesday, after the handshake, a White House official said the Obama administration still had grave concerns about human rights violations in Cuba, Reuters reported.

Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to condemn the gesture, with one Republican congresswoman chiding the move during a unrelated hearing on Tuesday.

The White House said President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro's handshake at Nelson Mandela's memorial service was unplanned

The White House said President Barack Obama and Cuba’s President Raul Castro’s handshake at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was unplanned

“Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake, but when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,” Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is known for her opposition to the Castro government, told Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Could you please tell the Cuban people living under that repressive regime that, a handshake notwithstanding, the US policy toward the cruel and sadistic Cuban dictatorship has not weakened.”

The last US president to shake a Cuban leader’s hand was President Bill Clinton, who greeted President Fidel Castro, Raul’s brother and predecessor, at a 2000 UN General Assembly meeting.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans travelling to the island and on remittances between family members across the two countries.

But the gradual thaw has been disrupted by the detention in Cuba of a US contractor.

Alan Gross, 64, was arrested four years ago while on a project to provide internet access to Cuba’s small Jewish community.

On the fourth anniversary of his arrest, Alan Gross wrote to Barack Obama to say he feared the US government had “abandoned” him, and asked the US president to intervene personally to help win his release.

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Fidel Castro has revealed in a recent article he decided to step down and transfer power to his younger brother, Raul, because he was diagnosed with a fatal illness in 2006.

In an article published to mark his 87th birthday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he didn’t expect to survive the stomach ailment and live for so long.

“I was far from imagining that my life would extend for another seven years.”

Fidel Castro had been in power since the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

The long article was only published by official newspaper Granma on Wednesday, a day after his birthday.

Fidel Castro left office for treatment in 2006 but only formally resigned as commander-in-chief and president of Cuba in February 2008.

“As soon as I understood that it would be definitive, I did not hesitate to cease my charges as president,” he said in the article.

Fidel Castro also revealed that Cuba had received weapons from North Korea in the early 1980s.

In an article published to mark his 87th birthday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he didn't expect to survive the stomach ailment and live for so long

In an article published to mark his 87th birthday, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he didn’t expect to survive the stomach ailment and live for so long

The North Korean weapons shipment was provided after Soviet leader Yuri Andropov warned that his country was no longer prepared to step in to defend the communist-run island.

“He told us that if we were attacked by the United States we would have to fight alone,” wrote Fidel Castro.

The Soviet Union renewed its commitment, however, to continue providing weapons to the island.

But Cuba decided to gather weapons from “other friends” to arm “one million Cuban fighters.”

“Comrade Kim Il Sung, a veteran and exemplary soldier, sent us 100,000 AK rifles and accompanying ammunition without charging a penny,” writes Fidel Castro.

The North Korean leader, who was succeeded by his son, died in 1994.

The revelations come as a team of United Nations experts investigate an incident in the Panama Canal involving a North Korean ship carrying an undeclared shipment of weapons from Cuba.

The ship was seized last month on suspicion of carrying drugs, but Panamanian officials found weapons – including two Soviet-era combat jets – stashed under bags of sugar.

Cuba came forward saying the “obsolete weapons” were being sent to North Korea to be repaired.

Panama called in the UN to investigate if the shipment breached sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

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Cuba’s President Raul Castro has announced he will stand down at the end of his second term in 2018, following his re-election by the National Assembly.

Raul Castro, 81, formally assumed the presidency in 2008 – two years after replacing his ailing brother Fidel.

The Communist assembly, whose members ran for office unopposed, also chose Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez as Raul Castro’s first vice-president.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, is widely seen as Raul Castro’s successor.

On Sunday, 86-year-old Fidel Castro – who was in power for five decades – made a rare public appearance at the opening session of the assembly in the capital Havana.

The Castros have been running Cuba under a one-party system since the 1959 revolution, which ousted the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

Addressing the assembly following his re-election on Sunday, Raul Castro said: “This will be my last term.”

He had earlier called for a two-term limit and age caps for political offices, including the presidency.

But it is the first time he publicly said he would be stepping aside in 2018.

During his years in power, Raul Castro eased some restrictions on personal freedoms by lifting bans on mobile phones and home computers, and abolished the need of citizens to buy expensive exit visas when travelling abroad as tourists.


Cuba’s President Raul Castro has announced he will stand down at the end of his second term in 2018, following his re-election by the National Assembly

Cuba’s President Raul Castro has announced he will stand down at the end of his second term in 2018, following his re-election by the National Assembly


However, in his speech, he stressed: “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

Cuba has struggled economically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1991 and now relies heavily on the support of the left-wing government of Venezuela.

Havana’s relationship with the US remains hostile – the two countries have no diplomatic relations and a decades-long American economic blockade is still in effect.

Until his promotion, Miguel Diaz-Canel was one of the eight vice-presidents on the council of ministers.

An electrical engineer by training, he rose through the Communist party ranks in the provinces and at one time served as education minister.

He would succeed Raul Castro if he is unable to serve his second full term in office.

Earlier in the day Raul Castro’s arrival, together with Fidel, and was warmly greeted by more than 600 assembly members.

Foreign press was barred from the opening ceremony.

Before Sunday, Fidel Castro was last seen in public earlier this month. Correspondents say he appeared frail and stooped at the time.

Fidel Castro has given up all his official positions, except his post as the assembly’s deputy leader.

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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez says he has returned home after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba.

In three messages posted on Twitter, Hugo Chavez, 58, thanked Cuban President and ex-leader Raul and Fidel Castro.

Hugo Chavez also thanked Venezuelans for their support and said he would continue treatment in his home country.

He has been president for 14 years and was re-elected for another six-year term in October 2012, but his swearing-in was delayed because of his illness.

Hugo Chavez went to Havana for surgery on December 11, his fourth operation in an 18-month period for cancer first diagnosed in mid-2011.

Last week the first images of him since the operation were broadcast by Venezuela’s government.

Hugo Chavez was pictured smiling as he lay in bed reading a newspaper, with his two daughters by his side.

Hugo Chavez says he has returned to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba

Hugo Chavez says he has returned to Venezuela after receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba

He announced his return to Venezuela to his 3.9 million Twitter followers in a series of tweets that were bombastic in tone but short on detail.

“We have arrived back in the land of Venezuela. Thank you Lord!! Thanks to my beloved people! We will continue our treatment here.”

There was no information about when or why he returned, and no details about whether he would actively take up the duties of office.

Instead Hugo Chavez thanked Cuba’s leaders and people and said he had confidence in his doctors.

“Onwards to victory!! We will live and we will overcome!!!” Hugo Chavez wrote in his final tweet.

The extent of Hugo Chavez’s illness is shrouded in mystery, but it is understood to be serious.

During his treatment the Venezuelan leader is reported to have had tumors removed from his pelvic region.

Hugo Chavez has also undergone prior rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Though there have been few details about the president’s exact treatment, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro described it as “extremely complex and tough”.

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Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has voted in country’s parliamentary elections, the first time the frail ex-leader has been seen in public for several months.

State TV showed Fidel Castro, 86, voting at a polling station where he is said to have spent up to an hour talking to other voters and the media.

He was stooped and spoke with a faint, weak voice.

A crowd surrounded his car, cheering as he was driven off, she adds.

All organized opposition is banned in Cuba and all candidates for elections have been selected by the ruling Communist Party or its affiliated associations.

More than 600 delegates will take their seats in the National Assembly and approve the candidates for Cuba’s key political positions.

With President Raul Castro – Fidel’s younger brother – already 81, Cubans are watching for any sign as to who might follow him.

The choice of vice-presidents and ministers could suggest who is being groomed to carry on the revolution.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has voted in country's parliamentary elections, the first time the frail ex-leader has been seen in public for several months

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has voted in country’s parliamentary elections, the first time the frail ex-leader has been seen in public for several months

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Fidel Castro has written a strongly-worded article condemning persistent rumors that he is on his death bed.

The 86-year-old attacked international media “lies”, and published photos of himself in Cuba’s state media.

Fidel Castro said he was in good health, and could not even remember the last time he had a headache.

Venezuelan politician Elias Jaua said on Sunday he had a five-hour meeting with Fidel Castro the previous day.

Elias Jaua presented a photo of the encounter, and said the former Cuban leader was “very well, very lucid”.

The last images of Fidel Castro to be made public had been from March, when the Cuban ex-leader briefly met Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s visit to the Communist island.

Elias Jaua presented a photo of the encounter with Fidel Castro

Elias Jaua presented a photo of the encounter with Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro’s long absence from the public stage had fuelled rumors on social media sites that his health had deteriorated, or that he may even have died.

“Although a lot of people in the world are taken in by the organs of information, almost all of which are in the hands of the privileged and the rich that publish these stupidities, people are increasingly believing less and less in them,” Fidel Castro said in his article.

He went on to say that he was keeping himself busy writing and studying, but had decided to step back from public life “because it certainly is not my role to occupy the pages of our newspaper”.

Fidel Castro finished off by saying: “I don’t even remember what a headache is. To show what liars they are, I’m offering these photos to accompany this article.”

A series of photos, taken by his son Alex, show him outside wearing a cowboy hat and a checked shirt. In some photos, he is reading Friday’s copy of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Fidel Castro led Cuba after the revolution in 1959, first as prime minister (1959-1976) and later as president.

In 2006, surgery took Fidel Castro out of public view. His brother Raul became acting president.

In February 2008, Fidel Castro officially handed over power to Raul who has been leading the country since then.


Fidel Castro has appeared in public for the first time in months, refuting persistent rumors that he was gravely ill.

Staff at a top hotel in the capital, Havana, said Cuban revolutionary leader had dropped off a Venezuelan politician on Saturday.

Venezuelan ex-Vice-President Elias Jaua confirmed he had had a five-hour meeting with Fidel Castro, who is 86.

Speculation about Fidel Castro’s health has been constant since his brother Raul took over the presidency in 2006.

Elias Jaua told journalists gathered at the Hotel Nacional in Havana that Fidel Castro was “very well, very lucid”.

The Venezuelan politician, who served as vice-president until elections earlier this month, also showed a photograph of the encounter.

The last images of Fidel Castro to be made public had been from March, when the Cuban ex-leader briefly met Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s visit to the Communist island.

Fidel Castro’s long absence from the public stage had fuelled rumors on social media sites that his health had deteriorated, or that he may even have died.

But Elias Jaua said the Cuban ex-leader was on good form.

“We talked for five hours about agriculture, history, international politics and, well, Fidel is doing fine,” he said.

Elias Jaua said Fidel Castro accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after the meeting: “He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel.”

Hotel Director Antonio Martinez said he had found Fidel Castro “very happy, constantly smiling and talking about a lot of things”.

However, Fidel Castro did not personally cast his vote in the local elections which were held in Cuba on Sunday. Instead, he filled in his ballot paper at home, and it was delivered to a polling station on his behalf.

Fidel Castro led Cuba after the revolution in 1959, first as prime minister (1959-1976) and later as president.

In 2006, surgery took Fidel Castro out of public view. His brother Raul became acting president.

In February 2008, Fidel Castro officially handed over power to Raul who has been leading the country since then.


Fidel Castro has suffered a massive stroke and has only weeks to live, a doctor has claimed.

Jose Rafael Marquina said the 86-year-old revolutionary Cuban leader was in a vegetative state and is “moribund” at a house in western Havana.

Despite this, a letter from Fidel Castro was published by state media denying he was on death’s door. Relatives have also denied the claims.

Jose Rafael Marquina told Spain’s ABC newspaper that Fidel Castro had suffered a “massive embolism of the right cerebral artery” and while not on life support or breathing artificially, was “moribund” at a house in a gated former country club in the Cuban capital.

He also said that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had travelled suddenly to Havana to be with his friend and ally.

Reached by The Associated Press, Jose Rafael Marquina said his sources were in Venezuela, but he would not identify them or say how they were in a position to have information about Fidel Castro’s health.

He also indicated he had received corroborating evidence from sources on Twitter, but would not say who.

Fidel Castro has suffered a massive stroke and has only weeks to live

Fidel Castro has suffered a massive stroke and has only weeks to live

His claims have been reported on social media sites and by some news organizations. However, Jose Rafael Marquina, has made some claims before that have not panned out.

In April, Jose Rafael Marquina said that Hugo Chavez, who has been battling an undisclosed kind of cancer, was in his “last days” and would not last to November. With less than two weeks to go, the Venezuelan leader says he’s beaten the illness and appears stronger in public.

Fidel Castro’s health is considered a matter of national security in Cuba and few details are released.

Rumors that the former Cuban leader has died or is near death have circulated repeatedly for years, but they gained force after he failed to issue a public statement congratulating Hugo Chavez on his October 7 election victory.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public since March, when he received visiting Pope Benedict XVI. He has also stopped writing his once-constant opinion pieces, the last of which appeared in June.

There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government on the latest claims, but a letter attributed to Fidel Castro was published Thursday by Cuban state media. In it, he congratulated graduates of a medical school on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Two close family members of Fidel Castro have also recently denied he is in grave condition. Juanita Castro, the former leader’s sister, told the AP in Miami that reports of her brother’s condition are “pure rumors” and “absurd”.

Son Alex Castro told a reporter for a weekly Cuban newspaper that his father “is well, going about his daily life”.