The exchanges underscored deep divisions that still exist between the two countries despite rapidly improved relations in the 15 months since Obama and Castro surprised the world
with an announcement to end their Cold War-era diplomatic freeze.

Obama, standing in Havana's Palace of the Revolution on the second day of his historic visit to Cuba, repeatedly pushed Castro to take steps to address his country's human rights record.

"We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights," said Obama, who planned to meet with Cuban dissidents Tuesday. Still, Obama heralded a "new day" in the US-Cuba relationship and said "part of normalizing relations means we discuss these differences directly."

Castro was blistering in his criticism of the American embargo, which he called "the most important obstacle" to his country's economic development. He also pressed Obama to return the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which is on the island of Cuba, to his government.

"There are profound differences between our countries that will not go away," Castro said plainly.

White House officials spent weeks pushing their Cuban counterparts to agree for the leaders to take questions from reporters after their private meeting, reaching agreement just hours before Obama and Castro appeared before cameras. It's extremely rare for Castro to give a press conference, though he has sometimes taken questions from reporters spontaneously
when the mood strikes.

Latest News from World News Desk