Barack Obama Cuba.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro spoke critically Monday of US President Barack Obama's historic trip to communist Cuba last week in his first comments about the groundbreaking visit.

"We don't need the empire to give us anything," the 89-year-old Castro wrote in the official newspaper Granma, recalling the decades-long estrangement between the United States and Cuba.

Castro dismissed Obama's remarks during his visit, declaring they could have caused many Cubans to suffer a heart attack.

In an address to the Cuban people that aired on state television, Obama called for a new era of relations between the neighbours, but continued to call for the respect of human rights by the Cuban regime and self-determination for the Cuban people.

The ailing Castro, who led Cuba for nearly half a century following the 1959 communist revolution, handed power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in 2006.

Obama became the first US president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years and met several times with Raul Castro during the three-day trip.

The White House said the fact that Fidel Castro felt compelled to weigh in on Obama's trip showed the "significant impact" of the visit.

Obama discussed steps to normalize relations and stressed the importance of human rights throughout his trip, spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"The kind of engagement that President Obama was able to pursue in the context of his visit is the kind of engagement that would not have been possible had he not made the trip," Earnest said.

Obama and Raul Castro began the process of restoring relations in late 2014, but a trade embargo that can only be lifted by the US Congress remains in place.

The governments continue to have strong disagreements over human rights and other issues, but Obama has argued engagement with Cuba will result in more change than half a century of isolation.

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