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Raul Castro Demands Return of Guantanamo Bay, End of Trade Embargo

Speaking in Costa Rica, Cuba's president said lifting the economic blockade and returning Guantanamo Bay naval base are essential to normalize relations.
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Cuban President Raul Castro has demanded that the United States hand back its Guantanamo Bay military base - an apparent bargaining tool in the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the countries.

Castro also asked for a complete lifting of the decades-old trade embargo and for compensation for its effects, saying that without these changes the recent diplomatic thaw “wouldn't make any sense."

President Barack Obama pledged earlier this month that the White House would move quickly to restore ties with Havana, scrapping a slew of travel and economic restrictions with immediate effect and dispatching a U.S. delegation to Cuba for a first round of historic talks.

Already on the agenda are the re-establishment of regular, scheduled commercial flights, the establishment of formal embassies in Havana and Washington and the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism — a step the United States says it will consider. The Americans, meanwhile, want to make sure Cubans have freer access to the Internet.

Castro set out Cuba's demands during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit on Costa Rica on Wednesday.

"The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don't give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base," Castro told delegates.

He also demanded the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver "just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they're suffered."

However, the demands are unlikely to derail the process of restoring ties. Both the U.S. State Department and the Cuban Foreign Ministry have told NBC News on and off the record that there will be no turning back from the resumption of relations.

The U.S. established the Guantanamo base in 1903, and the current Cuban government has been demanding the land's return since the 1959 revolution that brought it to power.

The Obama administration has pledged to close the high-security prison at the facility, and has been transferring terror detainees to their own countries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

- Alastair Jamieson