Former Cuban President Fidel Castro criticised US foreign and economic policies since World War II and accused the United States of owing Cuba millions of dollars due to economic damages.
The open letter marking the former leader’s 89th birthday on Thursday was released on the government website CubaDebate, published in the communist newspaper Granma and read out loud on TV Cubana, a day ahead of the symbolic flag-raising ceremony at the American embassy in Havana which will be attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages, which total many millions of dollars, as our country has stated with irrefutable arguments and data in all of its speeches at the United Nations,” Castro wrote in the open letter to Cuban citizens.
While the letter did not specify an exact amount, Cuban officials have recently stated that the ‘blockade,’ as Cuba calls the embargo, has cost the island $117 billion.
The US embargo was first implemented in 1960 in response to the Cuban government’s seizure of US-owned oil refineries. In 1962, the President John F. Kennedy broadened the partial trade restrictions imposed by Eisenhower, and a year later travel and financial transactions by US citizens with Cuba were also banned.
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry support lifting the embargo but are unable to do so without changing the 1996 Helms-Burton Act by going through a Republican-led Congress.
There is also the matter of US assets seized by the Cuban government in the early 1960s, shortly after Fidel Castro came to power, replacing the US-backed Batista government. Al Jazeera reports that by some estimates, those properties are now worth around $7 billion, accounting for accruing interest.
While the Cuban government has not indicated whether it would take the seized US properties into account when making compensation demands from the United States, current president and Fidel’s brother Raul Castro said in April in Panama that he is willing to discuss “everything.”
Fidel Castro, who officially resigned in 2008 citing health reasons, turning over the presidency to Raul Castro, is still a significant figure in Cuban politics. A month after his brother and US President Obama announced the intent to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries, Fidel Castro opined that “I don’t trust the policy of the US, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but that does not mean I reject a peaceful solution to conflicts.”
Raul Castro also remains skeptical, saying he “will agree to disagree” with Obama on issues that are not subject to negotiation.