- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

HAVANA (AP) - Raul Castro’s offer to talk with Washington about anything _ even such sticky subjects as human rights, press freedom and political prisoners _ was big news in Cuba on Friday.

But what President Barack Obama said to prompt Castro’s comments was not.

Only those with illegal satellite hookups that tune in Florida television signals had any clue that Obama said Thursday that Havana’s communist government should respond with actions “grounded in respect for human rights” after the U.S. loosened restrictions on family travel and remittances.

Traveling in Venezuela, Castro said hours later that Cuba has “sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public” that it is open to talking about everything, as long as it’s “on equal terms.”

His full, unedited remarks were shown at the end of the nightly newscast Thursday _ meaning they were the only thing airing in prime time on three of the island’s four nationwide networks.

Castro did not mention Obama’s comments, however, and official media focused on his insistence that Cuban sovereignty be respected in any negotiations.

Meanwhile Fidel Castro, who pens influential, almost daily columns in state newspapers from the sidelines of power, was silent.

Still, no official effort was made to hide Raul’s frank language _ the most conciliatory words either Castro brother has used since 1961, when Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“It was a surprise, but positive,” said 71-year-old retiree Chula Rodriguez, who reported watching the broadcast with “a roomful” of relatives.

“I hope the Americans come back to Cuba _ but as friends, not on the attack,” she said, referring to the 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion by exiles.

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