Obama Vows to 'Bury Last Remnants of Cold War,' Encourage Hope and Change

PHOTO:President Obama delivers a speech at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso in the Old Havana city center, March 22, 2016, in Havana. PlayABC News
WATCH President Obama Vows to 'Bury Last Remnants of Cold War'

President Obama delivered a speech directly to the Cuban people today, calling for stronger ties between the people of the United States and Cuba.

"I have come here to bury the last remnants of the Cold War in the Americas," Obama said today in Cuba. "Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance -- over barriers of history, theology, barriers of pain and separation."

Speaking at the Grand Teatro de La Havana, in a 30-minute speech broadcast live on Cuban television, Obama encouraged "hope" and "change" for the future of the Cuban people - two themes from his presidential campaign.

Both the U.S. and Cuban governments invited large groups representing a cross-section of Cuban and Cuban-American interests, including a congressional delegation, citizens of both nations and students.

This was the first speech by an American president, on Cuban soil, in nearly 90 years, though Cuban television live broadcast speeches by both the country's President Raul Castro and President Obama after the U.S. and Cuba announced they would restore diplomatic ties in December 2014.

"I believe in the Cuban people," he said. "This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The United States is normalizing relations with the Cuban people."

"Even as our governments became adversaries," he said the people of both countries share many cultural interests like music, baseball, and literature.

Obama also highlighted several differences between the two countries -- mainly democracy.

"I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro," he said. Social issues such as racial discrimination, foreign wars, and money in politics were some of his concerns.

"That’s just a sample he has a much longer list," Obama said. "I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s open and healthy."

Obama admitted democracy "isn’t always pretty" but it made it possible for someone like him, raised by a single mother, to become President and for two Cuban-Americans to run for the office in this election.

"You have two Cuban-Americans in the Republican Party running against the legacy of a Black man, who was president," he said, "while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the nominee, who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist. Who would have believed that back in 1959?"

He said his vision is for the Cuban people to have that same kind of hope. "In the United States we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build," he said. "It's called Miami."

"Many people asked for me to come here and tear something down," he said, referencing a speech made by President Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s when he said, 'tear down that Wall.'

But Obama said his goal during his visit to Cuba wasn't about destruction. "I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba to build something up and build something new," he said.

He assured Cuban President Castro that he did not need to feel a threat from the United States--nor should he fear the voices of his own Cuban people. He called for an end to the embargo, but also warned that it won't be enough without changes within Cuba, as well, to make doing business easier.

Obama peppered his speech with Spanish phrases, ending his speech with the hopeful note, "Si Se Puede, Yes we can."