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Cuban official dismisses Obama overtures

Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon dismissed President Barack Obama's recent overtures to Cuba and said Saturday for the first time that the new U.S. administration's stance is "the continuation of an illegal, unjustifiable and failed policy."

Obama has suggested it may be time for a new beginning with Cuba, and the White House authorized unlimited travel and money transfers for Americans with relatives in Cuba. But his administration has said it would like Cuba to respond by making small political and social changes to its single-party communist system.

"In other words Cuba must change and behave in accordance with Washington's wishes," Alarcon said at the close of a Cuban academic conference in Canada.

"That attitude is not only the continuation of an illegal, unjustifiable and failed policy, it is also the consequence of a profound misconception, a false perception of itself that lies as the foundation of the U.S. role in the world."

The U.S. has long sought what it considers real change from Cuba in human rights, free speech, free markets and democratic government.

Last month, President Raul Castro said Cuba was willing to discuss "everything" with the U.S., leading to hopes that a door was opening to a new relationship.

But former President Fidel Castro insists that Cuba should make no concessions in return for better U.S. ties.

The Obama administration has said it has no plans to lift the embargo which bans nearly all trade with Cuba. The island's government blames those sanctions for frequent shortages of food, medicine, farming and transportation machinery and other basics.

Alarcon said Obama's gestures were dictated by growing domestic demand and don't amount to much.

"Essentially he lifted newer restrictions that George W. Bush had imposed on Cuban- American travelers," Alarcon said.

Alarcon said Obama should exercise his authority and immediately free five convicted Cuban spies. The so-called Cuban Five are communist agents who were convicted of espionage in Miami in 2001. The ringleader was implicated in the death of four exiles killed when Cuban military fighters shot their planes down off the island's coast in 1996.

"The U.S government should free them if they want us to believe that something fundamental is changing in Washington," Alarcon said.

He also said the United States should extradite an anti-Castro Cuban militant accused of plotting the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane in Venezuela that killed all 73 people on board. Cuba is hoping Obama's administration will shift policy in the case of 81-year-old Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative and U.S. Army soldier, and turn him over to face trial in Venezuela.

Cuba and Venezuela have accused Washington of being hypocritical in sparing the Cuban-born militant from extradition while demanding a global war against terrorism.

"If it's about change that we are talking than may I suggest some real changes that could take place right now if we want to improve the situation in the hemisphere and the relationship between our peoples and countries," Alarcon said.

"Posada must be extradited."

The three-day forum at Queen's University examined the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Cuba revolution but very few anti-Castro views were heard.

A small number of anti-Castro Cuban emigres with placards demonstrated outside the site of Alarcon's speech.