PANAMA CITY —Cuban President Raul Castro went off-script during his address today at the Summit of the Americas to throw love at Obama and tell the U.S. president that the U.S. embargo is not his fault.
Castro, in good form, opened with a bit of a barbed joke. He said he was told by summit planners that he could only have eight minutes to speak, and made a "great effort" to stay within that timeframe. "But actually, you owe me six summits from which I was excluded. So six times eight, 48." (In fact he spoke for 51 minutes, in true Cuban fashion.)
Castro said that, similar to 77 percent of Cubans born under the embargo, President Obama was born under a failed U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba that was crafted and perpetuated by 10 presidents before him. Castro spent the first part of his speech railing against the history of the U.S.’s intervention in Latin America and Cuba, and defending the values of the Cuban Revolution. Then he apologized to Obama and to the U.S. people for speaking so animatedly about the past.
“I apologize to President Obama and to all the people – for expressing myself like that –I have told president Obama myself that I’m very emotional when I talk about the revolution,” Raul said.
He stressed that Obama “has no responsibility” for the situation. Castro said Obama’s 10 predecessors all have “some sort of debt” with Cuba, but Obama, whom he called “an honest man,” is debt-free.
Castro also got personal, saying he has read Obama’s biographies and is a fan. “I admire him and I think his behavior has a lot to do with his humble background,” Castro said, triggering a thunderous applause from the hemispheric crowd.
“We have to continue striving and supporting president Obama in his intentions to remove the blockade,” Castro said.
President Obama, meanwhile, said he would continue to invest in "creating the kind of spirit of partnership and mutual interest and mutual respect."
"The Cold War has been over for a long time," Obama added. "And I'm not interested in having battles that, frankly, started before I was born."
Tim Rogers, Fusion's senior editor for Latin America, was born a gringo to well-meaning parents, but would rather have been Nicaraguan. Also, he's the second hit on Google when you search for "Guatemalan superhero." Tim was a Nieman Fellow in 2014.