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Obama Spells Out Vision For U.S.-Cuba Relations In Havana Address

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Obama practiced some baseball diplomacy in Cuba today. He dropped by a partido amistoso - a friendly game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. And he touched a few other bases as he wrapped up his historic two-day-visit to Cuba. He met with antigovernment activists, and he made an appeal to the Cuban people for a new era of cooperation with the United States. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In baseball, first base is just 90 feet from home plate, but getting there is not easy, like so many journeys on and off the playing field.

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BARACK OBAMA: Havana is only 90 miles from Florida. But to get here, we had to travel a great distance over barriers of history and ideology, barriers of pain and separation.

HORSLEY: Addressing a national TV audience from Havana's Gran Teatro this morning, President Obama offered a brief recap of U.S.-Cuba relations, a story he said includes both liberation and exploitation. In what's become a common refrain, Obama said he knows that history but refuses to be trapped by it, especially the isolation that's governed most of the last half-century.

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OBAMA: I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.

HORSLEY: Obama also met today with a group of Cuban dissidents and said he'll continue to voice strong disagreements with the Cuban government over its human rights violations and its one-party rule.

Democracy in America is not perfect, he admitted, but it does offer room for change. Just look at the 2016 election, where he said two Cuban-American Republicans were competing to replace the first black president against a woman and a socialist.

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OBAMA: Who would have believed that back in 1959?

(APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: For most of the last five decades, this presidential visit also would have been hard to believe. Obama’s trying to cement his new policy of outreach and engagement. Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American who served as commerce secretary under George W. Bush, says it's working. Gutierrez thinks every new business deal and every American who visits the island makes it that much harder to turn back the clock.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I just think they're comes a point where reversing it will seem like a very crazy idea, and I think we're just about at that stage.

HORSLEY: Obama said today he's not just trying to normalize relations with Raul Castro but with the Cuban people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Creo en el pueblo Cubano. I believe in the Cuban people.

HORSLEY: Obama spoke about all the cultural connections that Cuba shares with its neighbor to the north - Ernest Hemingway, Jose Marti and, of course, baseball.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Cube, Cuba.

HORSLEY: At this afternoon’s exhibition game at Latin American Stadium, Obama watched from behind home plate with Raul Castro for the first two innings as the Rays jumped out to a early lead.

(CHEERING)

HORSLEY: Baseball and the president's visit were both hot topics of conversation this week in Havana's Parque Central.

LEONEL DORISKET: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: Leonel Dorisket says it was a special moment for the two countries when Obama and Castro met one-on-one. He calls today's friendly baseball game a magnificent thing.

DORISKET: (Speaking Spanish).

NARCIS VALLANTHAS: (Speaking Spanish).

HORSLEY: Dorisket predicted the Cubans would come out on top of Tampa Bay this afternoon, but his friend Narcis Vallanthas has a different view. Whatever the final score, she says both countries will be winners. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Havana.

SIEGEL: And in fact, the final score of that baseball game was Rays - four, Cuban national team - one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.