Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba's Raul Castro calls for 'civilised relations' with US

Cuban President Raul Castro has called for "civilised relations" with the United States, saying the two countries should respect their differences.

President Castro said the US should drop its demand for regime change on the communist-run island.

That would allow both sides to continue work on improving relations, he said.

Mr Castro's comments follow a public handshake with President Obama at the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela in South Africa earlier this month.

In a rare public speech, Mr Castro said Cuban and American officials had met several times over the last year to discuss practical matters, such as immigration and the re-establishment of a postal service.

That shows that relations can be civilised, Mr Castro explained.

But he warned: "If we really want to make progress in bilateral relations, we have to learn to respect each other's differences and get used to living peacefully with them. Otherwise, no. We are ready for another 55 years like the last."

The US broke off relations in 1961, two years after the revolution, and maintains an economic embargo against the island.

Raul's reforms

"We do not ask the United States to change its political and social system, nor do we agree to negotiate over ours," Mr Castro told legislators at the closing session of the parliament in the capital, Havana.

Raul Castro's unprecedented handshake with Barack Obama took place at Nelson Mandela's memorial ceremony

Relations between the two neighbours have shown signs of improvement of late, although some stumbling blocks to reconciliation remain, said the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Havana.

Raul Castro, 82, took over from his brother, Fidel, in 2006. Fidel had serious health problems and was never able to come back to power. Two years later, he resigned and transferred control permanently to Raul Castro.

He has since carried out a programme of economic reforms, which has helped efforts for relations with the US to be improved.

But critics say the pace of change has been too slow.

"The reform process in Cuba cannot be rushed or it will lead to failure," Mr Castro warned.

Among the most recent changes announced by Raul Castro is the end of restrictions on private individuals to buy new and second hand cars.

Anyone with enough money will be allowed to order the vehicles from a government dealer.

Until now, only those who were given a previous government authorisation were allowed to buy cars in Cuba.

The Cuban government has recently eased restriction on private car ownership

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