Obama refers to Brothers to the Rescue killings as 'tragic circumstance'

President talks about Cuba-U.S. policy during year-end conference

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Friday Raul Castro joked that he was still a young man and could still beat Fidel Castro's record for the longest speech.

The socialist leader holds a Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations. The Sept. 29, 1960 speech was 4 hours and 29 minutes. And the 88-year-old's  longest speech on record was 7 hours and 10 minutes at the Communist Party Congress of 1986.

Obama showed no signs of wanting to beat Fidel's record Friday. He ended the year-end press conference in 50 minutes to start his holiday vacation in Hawaii.

Here is more of what Obama said during the press conference:

Brothers To The Rescue: Sen. Marco Rubio and other Cuban-American lawmakers stood behind Miriam de la Peña Thursday. The tearful woman said Raul Castro was the one who ordered the hit on The Brothers To The Rescue plane that her son, Mario de la Peña, was in when he died Feb. 24, 1996.

Obama said that as far as he knew the "plane shut down" was not a premeditated move by Castro but a "tragic circumstance."

Human rights in Cuba: Cuban-American lawmakers have promised the relatives of The Brothers To The Rescue victims that they will do everything in their power to keep the embargo in place. The policy is meant  to pressure Cuban officials to respect human rights, the lawmakers said Thursday.

Obama said he was going to "weigh in" during the "healthy debate" inside Congress. He added that his policy against the embargo was going to give the United Nations and the Red Cross more freedom to help Cubans on the island.

"I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activist that this is still a regime that represses its people," Obama said.


Sony on hackers demands: Sony "made a mistake" in halting the release of its film "The Interview" after hackers that the FBI has linked to North Korea stole the company's documents and threatened theaters that showed the film.

"We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they'll do when they see a documentary that they don't like," Obama said.

Tax reform: Obama said staff-level conversations will take place between The White House and GOP congressional leadership between now and the Jan. 20 State of the Union address on both individual and corporate tax reform.

"There are other companies that are paying zero because they've got better accountants or lawyers. That's not fair," he said. "There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance. We think it's important that everybody pay something if they are effectively headquartered in the United States."

Violent policing: Obama said that "really concrete, practical" law enforcement reforms will result from a review his administration is currently producing, and sounded an optimistic tone about preventing deaths like Michael Brown's in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner's in New York City in the future.

"Sometimes our institutions and our systems don't work as well as they should," he said. "Sometimes you've got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn't maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around."

Keystone XL pipeline: Obama didn't threaten to veto a bill that would take approval of the 1,179-mile, Canada-to-Texas pipeline out of the State Department's hands. But he downplayed its potential effects and said that if Congress wants to create the kinds of construction jobs that could accompany the pipeline, it should instead approve bills to improve the country's infrastructure.

"There's very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices -- what the average American consumer cares about -- by having this pipeline come through," Obama said.

Obamacare and financial services reforms: He threatened to veto legislation approved by the new Republican-led Congress that weakens his signature health care law or rolls back any of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial services reforms.

"I think there are going to be some tough fights on those areas where we disagree," Obama said. "If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me. If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no."

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