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Mon Mar 21, 7:00 pm ET

SANTIAGO (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Monday urged Cuba to
extend greater freedoms to its citizens, in a sweeping speech on Latin
America delivered in Santiago, Chile.

“Cuban authorities must take meaningful actions to respect the basic
rights of the Cuban people — not because the insists on
it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it,” Obama said in an address
here on the second leg of a Latin America tour.

Obama said the United States had taken measures to improved the long
strained relations between Havana and Washington, including relaxing
some decades-old economic sanctions.

“We've made it possible for Cuban-Americans to visit and support their
families in Cuba. We're allowing Americans to send remittances that
bring some economic hope for people across Cuba, as well as more
independence from Cuban authorities,” he said.

“Going forward, we'll continue to seek ways to increase the independence
of the Cuban people, who are entitled to the same and liberty as
everyone else in this hemisphere,” said Obama during the second stop of
Latin America swing that started in Brazil and is to wrap up this week
with a stop in El Salvador.
[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

The speech comes with US-Cuba relations under strain after the trial and
conviction this month of a US State Department contractor on subversion

American Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in on the communist
island for allegedly committing “acts against the independence and
territorial integrity of the state.”

He was working under contract for the US State Department when he was
arrested in late 2009 for distributing cell phones and computers to
members of the island's struggling Jewish community, a verdict that
Washington has decried as “an injustice.”

Meanwhile, Havana is in the process of releasing the last few of a group
of 75 detained in a vast 2003 crackdown on political
prisoners, in a deal reached with the help of the Spanish government and
the representatives from the Catholic here.


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