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|" Cuba's President Raul Castro(L Homme Adidas Originals NMD XR1 Noir Grise Pas Cher , front) and U.S. President Barack Obama(R, front), inspect the guard of honour at Palace of the Revolution, in Havana, capital of Cuba on March 21, 2016. Barack Obama on Monday paid tribute to Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Havana, starting the official program of his historic visit to Cuba to strengthen the approach between the two countries. (XinhuaVladimir MolinaPrensa Latina) Image provided by Cubadebate shows Cuba's President Raul Castro (R), meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, at the Palace of the Revolution, in Havana, capital of Cuba, on March 21, 2016. Barack Obama on Monday paid tribute to Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Havana, starting the official program of his historic visit to Cuba to strengthen the approach between the two countries. (XinhuaCubadebate)
Laying bare a half-century of tensions, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro prodded each other Monday over human rights and the longstanding U.S. economic embargo during an unprecedented joint news conference that stunned Cubans unaccustomed to their leaders being aggressively questioned.
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 U.S.-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 Guantanamo detention center, 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.
Cuban President Raul Castro, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting in Revolution Palace, Monday, March 21, 2016. Brushing past profound differences, President Obama and President Castro sat down for a historic meeting, offering critical clues about whether Obama's sharp U-turn in policy will be fully reciprocated. (AP PhotoRamon Espinosa) Cuban President Raul Castro, left, shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting in Revolution Palace, Monday, March 21, 2016. Brushing past profound differences, President Obama and President Castro sat down for a historic meeting, offering critical clues about whether Obama's sharp U-turn in policy will be fully reciprocated. Obama, Castro meet press
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.
While the issue of political prisoners is hugely important to Cuban-Americans and the international community, most people on the island are more concerned about the shortage of goods and their struggles with local bureaucracy.
Castro appeared agitated at times during the questioning, professing to not understand whether inquiries were directed to him.
But when an American reporter asked about political prisoners in Cuba, he pushed back aggressively, saying if the journalist could offer names of anyone improperly imprisoned, ""they will be released before tonight ends.""
""What political prisoners? Give me a name or names,"" Castro said.
Cuba has been criticized for briefly detaining demonstrators thousands of times a year but has drastically reduced its practice of handing down long prison sentences for crimes human rights groups consider to be political. Cuba released dozens of prisoners as part of its deal to normalize relations with the U.S., and in a recent report, Amnesty International did not name any current prisoners of conscience in Cuba.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the U.S. regularly raises specific cases and some are resolved, but added Cuba typically insists they're being held for other crimes. Rhodes said, ""I've shared many lists with the Cuban government.""
Obama's and Castro's comments were broadcast live on state television, which is tightly controlled by the government and the Communist Party.
At an outdoor cafe in Havana, about a dozen Cubans and tourists watched in awed silence. One woman held her hand to her mouth in shock.
""It's very significant to hear this from our president, for him to recognize that not all human rights are respected in Cuba,"" said Raul Rios, a 47-year-old driver.
Obama in Cuba, Calls Visit 'Historic'Play videoObama in Cuba, Calls Visit 'Historic'
Ricardo Herrera, a 45-year-old street food vendor said, ""It's like a movie but based on real life.""
After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the news conference abruptly, declaring, ""I think this is enough.""
Obama then appeared to lean in to pat Castro on the back. In an awkward moment, the Cuban leader instead grabbed Obama's arm and lifted it up as the U.S. president's wrist dangled, an image that immediately grabbed attention on social media.
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