A day after making history by becoming the first sitting US president to visit Cuba in 88 years, President Barack Obama joined Cuban president Raúl Castro for a joint press conference inside the Palace of Revolution in Havana, where the two leaders candidly discussed the steps both countries would need to take to begin normalizing relations.
“This is a new day—es una nueva día—between our two countries,” Obama said.
In their addresses, both leaders acknowledged the profound differences that remained between the two countries on subjects such as human rights and democracy. Castro urged the United States to lift decades-old economic sanctions and also called for its departure from Guantanamo.
“We recognize the position President Obama is in and the position his government holds against the blockade, and that they have called on Congress to lift it,” Castro said.
Then, in the rare Q&A session that followed, Castro appeared defensive when asked about the regime’s political prisoners. “Give me a list of those political prisoners and I’ll release them,” he said. “If we have those political prisoners they will be free before nighttime.”
His frustration continued when Obama gently nudged him to answer another question, this time about human rights violations. (Castro had said he’d answer just one question.) “Human rights,” he eventually said, “should not be politicized.”
With such remarks, it’s not exactly surprising the press conference ended on this uncomfortable note:
This is painful pic.twitter.com/UCdIcnmH39
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) March 21, 2016
MORE: How did the Obama administration finally break through years of deadlock on Cuba? Read our story on the crazy back-channel negotiations here.