Cuban foreign minister says embargo is costly

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has criticized the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against his country, saying it has cost the Communist-led island $975 billion.

Rodríguez made the comment Monday during an address before the United Nations General Assembly. Rodríguez, however, said Cuba’s government reiterates its willingness and interest to move toward the normalization of relations with the United States. He proposed talks on humanitarian issues as well as cooperation in countering the illegal drug trade, terrorism and human smuggling.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants improved relations with Cuba and in 2009, his administration eased travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island. President Obama, however, has said the embargo will stay in place until Havana takes steps toward democratic reforms.

Separately, the continued detention of a U.S. contractor in Cuba has blocked efforts to improve relations between the two longtime ideological foes. The contractor, Alan Gross, was convicted earlier this year for crimes against the Communist state and sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba. Gross was arrested in December 2009 for bringing communications equipment into the country. Gross has said he was trying to improve Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community and that his actions were not intended to be a threat against Cuba’s government.

The United States and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, but have interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other’s capitals.

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