National News

Americans, Cubans hope meetings will prompt change

Posted March 21, 2016 11:12 p.m. EDT

President Obama wrapped up his first full day of meetings in Cuba Monday with a state dinner alongside Cuban President Raul Castro.

Cubans and Americans both agree, and hope, the meetings will prompt change.

Ramon Perez said he believes the meetings are the beginning of the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba - something Castro has called for repeatedly.

"The embargo is going to end. When? I cannot be entirely sure," Obama said Monday afternoon.

Obama also acknowledged a difference of opinions when it comes to human rights.

"I made it clear that the United State will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future," Obama said. "We will speak out on behalf of human rights including freedom of speech, assembly and religion."

When Castro was asked by the media about political prisoners, he indicated the government does not have any in custody.

Cuba has been criticized for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of prisoners as part of its deal to normalize relations with the U.S., and in a recent report, Amnesty International did not name any current prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

While Obama and Castro both continue to work through the tensions created over the last 50 years, they understand the visit is short.

Change may be on the way, but Cubans fear how permanent the change will be.

"Let's see what happens with the next president," a man said.

On Tuesday, Obama is scheduled to give a speech directly to the people of Cuba.