"I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas," Barack Obama said Tuesday in Cuba.
So began a wide-ranging speech in Havana's Alicia Alonso Grand Theater that included, among many issues, a mention of gay rights. The U.S. president pointed to their "enormous gains" as one of the advantages to a democratic society.
"There are still enormous problems in our society, but democracy is the way that we solve them," he said. "That's how we got health care for more of our people. That's how we made enormous gains in women's rights, in gay rights."
"We, like every country, need the space that democracy gives us to change," added Obama. He also cited his own story -- as a biracial president whose parents, when he was born, could not legally wed -- as evidence of this change.
This historic visit marks the first time Obama has visited Cuba. The countries, which had severed ties during the Cold War, restored diplomatic relations last July. To commemorate the occasion, Richard Blanco, Obama's inaugural poet and a gay Cuban-American, had delivered a poem urging the nations to "heal together."
Same-sex marriages or civil unions are not legal in Cuba. However, in recent years, Mariela Castro, the Cuban president's daughter, has led the charge in campaigns against homophobia and transphobia as head of the National Center for Sex Education.
In a message for President Raul Castro, Obama directly addressed "fear."
"You do not need to fear a threat from the United States," he said. "You do not need to fear the different voices of the Cuban people."