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Obama: U.S. "open to a new relationship with Cuba."

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that his administration has tried to send a signal "that we are open to a new relationship with Cuba."

But that's only if the Cuban government "starts taking the proper steps to open up its own country and provide the space and the respect for human rights that would allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny," Obama said.  

The question about Cuba came during an online forum Wednesday morning on Hispanic issues. Obama noted that "everywhere else in the world you've been seeing a democratization movement that has been pressing forward." Democracies have emerged from previously authoritarian regimes throughout LAtin America and the world, he said, and "the time has come for the same thing to happen in Cuba."

Obama said he pushed for changes in the family travel laws, so that people can travel more frequently, and also modified remittance laws so that family members could more easily send money back to Cuba. That was designed to give people "more power and create an economic space for them to prosper within Cuba."

However, the U.S. hasn't seen what Obama called "the kind of genuine spirit of transformation inside of Cuba that would justify us eliminating the embargo," including the release of political prisoners and basic human rights for the country's citizens.

"I don't know what will happen over the next year, but we are prepared to see what happens in Cuba," he said. "If we see positive movement, we will respond in a positive way. Hopefully, over the next five years we'll see Cuba looking around the world and saying we need to catch up with history."

If there was "a release of political prisoners, the ability for people to express their opinions and to petition their government, if we saw even those steps, those would be very significant," Obama said. "And we would -- we would pay attention and we would undoubtedly reexamine our overall approach to Cuba if we saw a serious movement in that direction."

He also said that Cuba wouldn't have to have a "perfect market system" as a condition for ending the embargo, "because obviously we have trade and exchanges with a number of countries that fall short of a liberal democracy."

"But there is a basic, I think, recognition of people's human rights that includes their right to work, to change jobs, to get an education, to start a business," he said. "So some elements of freedom are included in how an economic system works. And right now, you know, we haven't seen any of that."

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