MIAMI — US President Barack Obama said "real change" from the Cuban government would help normalize relations between Washington and Havana, but added "we just have not seen that yet."
"For us to have the kind of normal relations we have with other countries, we've got to see significant changes from the Cuban government and we just have not seen that yet," Obama said in an interview with Miami-based Univision 23 broadcast Friday.
"I would welcome real change from the Cuban government," Obama added, responding to a series of reforms announced by President Raul Castro to give a jolt to Cuba's crippled economy.
Raul Castro took over from elder brother Fidel as head of the ruling Communist Party during April's Congress. He assumed the responsibilities of president in 2006 due to his brother's illness.
The proposed reforms include the liquidation of money-losing state-owned enterprises, the creation of cooperatives to spawn small private companies, and decentralizing agricultural production to boost production.
Castro's regime also says Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell automobiles or homes, and bank loans are to become more readily available.
"The economic system there is still far too constrained," Obama said.
Obama, who has relaxed some decades-old economic sanctions against Cuba, said the Cuban people deserve greater freedoms and have "suffered as a consequence of oppressive actions by the Cuban regime."
Obama weighed in on the controversial death of a dissident who was arrested in a park and, according to other dissidents, beaten by police. Authorities said he died of natural causes.
"He shouldn't have been arrested in the first place," Obama said.
Havana has released dozens of political prisoners detained in a vast 2003 crackdown, in a deal reached with the help of the Catholic Church in Cuba. But activists say there are dozens more still behind bars.
"The bottom line is political prisoners are still there who should have been released a long time ago who never should have been arrested in the first place; political dissent is still not tolerated," he said.
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