Cuban Foreign Minister Says Obama Should Bypass Congress on Embargo

President has power to end parts of the embargo, Bruno Rodriguez says.

ByABC News
April 12, 2015, 9:29 PM

— -- Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told ABC news in an exclusive interview hours after the famous handshake between Raul Castro and Barack Obama that the U.S. president should use executive action to remove parts of the embargo immediately.

"The U.S. president keeps very broad basis, very wide executive powers, for use in with a real determination and the president could make the difference in the practical implementation of the blockade," he said. "And there is a practical indication to engage to the congress in a debate on these matters."

Rodriguez, who was in the room with the two presidents for that historic meeting, told ABC News he expects Obama will soon take Cuba off the states sponsor of terrorism list, a major impediment to the new diplomacy between the two countries.

"His (Obama) announcement on the list of countries sponsors of international terrorism immediate consideration is good news," Rodriguez said. "We also appreciate it, his commitment to engage with the US congress in a way to, lift the blockade or embargo in 2015."

Bruno Rodriguez said the five-decade long embargo is asphyxiating the Cuban people, 76 percent of whom were born since the embargo was put in place, according to the minister.

But as relations with the U.S. normalize more Americans will visit, more private businesses will open. Already, American Express and MasterCard are allowing U.S. citizens to use their credit cards in Cuba, they can bring home $100 worth of cigars, U.S. airlines are applying for regularly scheduled service and the Cubans say this will all lead to discussions of the tough issues.

"Even in the field of human rights or democracy, or freedom of expression, or freedom of the press, and freedom to travel, etc., and I'm ready for an engagement," he said.

"I can't imagine that if the U.S. has normal relations with the countries in which they have very important differences on a matter of political system and political doctrines, it could not be possible to do the same with the Cuba," he added.

The listing as a state sponsor of terrorism remains a priority for Cuba, which has been on the list since 1982.

"It was unfair. It wasn't justifiable. And I'm confident that President Obama will take the right and just decision," Rodriguez said.

When it comes to reopening embassies, Rodriguez said that "common ground" has already been agreed upon on the "core of the diplomatic relations."

U.S. officials tell ABC News that the Cubans are moving slowly on reopening embassies in the two capitals, because they are concerned about giving American diplomats the right to travel all over the island nation.

Rodriguez, who previously served as Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations, said it's a matter of international law.

"All the diplomats are under the legal obligation to respect, fully respect the national law of the recipient country," he said.

During the press conference with Obama and Castro on Saturday during the summit of the Americas, Castro was asked whether he ever thought he'd be sitting next to a U.S. president. His answer was indecipherable over the noise.

Rodriguez told ABC News that Castro heard the question and responded: "President Raul Castro listened and responded saying: 'Yes, I did. I imagined this moment. and I worked for this moment ... and it's a moment of opportunity and a moment of hope for the American people and for the Cuban people."

For Rodriguez, these dialogues and movements are just the beginning.

"And after this first stage, diplomatic one and when we reach common ground and the proper junction for making this historical step and exchange, high level delegation visits, etc., we will start a second stage, a second chapter. Maybe longer and more complicated," he said.