By Alfredo Prieto
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 6 – The visit to Cuba by the deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Bisa Williams, was profiled as a singular act on the panorama of relations between the two countries.
Not only was this the first step onto Cuban soil by a high-level American official since 2002, it also embodied the policies of President Barack Obama like few others by being characterized as a blast of air into the forge.
Accompanied by officials from the US State Department and the Postal Service, Williams held talks with a Cuban delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez. Exchanges covered the resumption of direct mail service between the two countries, suspended since 1963.
Through spokesperson Phillip J. Crowley, the Department of State expressed its satisfaction with the outcome of the dialogue, which he described as positive and consistent with the official positions of uniting families on the two sides of the Florida Strait and increasing the flow of information to the Cuban people.
The US delegation visited a postal processing center and invited Cuban officials to do the same in the United States. Moreover, it was announced that the two delegations would meet again to continue the conversations.
Evidently this step, along with the re-initiation of immigration talks, was sufficient to sustain media coverage since it denoted a marked change in relation to the position of the Bush administration.
Six Full Days in Havana and Pinar del Rio
But that same press, which usually operates with their own “Man Bites Dog” concept of the news, were said to have worked on spreading the idea that “something is happening” (like in the song “The Wall” by Cuban trova singer Carlos Verela, who sang that refrain in the recent Peace without Borders Concert before more than a million spectators in Havana).
In the first place, this was because of the matter of duration: Bisa Williams was in Havana for six days, staying on after having concluded the bilateral meeting. Secondly, it was because of what she did: participating in a cocktail party with Cuban intellectuals and artists at the home of the new head of the US Interests Section, Jonathan D. Farrar. Though the usual dissident elements were not invited, she did meet with them separately.
In addition, she visited several places hit by hurricanes in Pinar del Rio Province in 2008 and even attended the Juanes concert, earning her historic distinction of being the first high-ranking US official to rock to Latin American music in Revolution Square.
Although both sides had kept the meetings discreet, once the news was known, D.C. felt tremors radiating from some Washington offices. Feeling the ground shake, right-wing Cuban-American congressional offices requested the Department of State convene an “immediate informational meeting” on the activities of Bisa Williams to consider if contacts with the Cuban government had risen to “unnecessary levels.”
In a letter to Undersecretary of State William J. Burns from Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz Balart and Albio Sires, it was deemed inconceivable that the dialogue -originally foreseen to focus exclusively on mail service, but which also touched on immigration and consular matters- “had been so amply widened that Cuban foreign minister described it as covering issues on the global agenda.”
In reality this was an allusion to the list of problems identified recently by Bruno Rodriguez Parilla in New York, which included the blockade, the Cuban Adjustment Act, removing Cuba from the list of terrorist states, Radio and Television Marti, and the “Cuban Five” imprisoned in the United States.
Obviously there was no stamp in Bisa’s visa indicating everything that the four Florida legislators are now demanding clarification on. However, the increase in their noice level is like the tip of the iceberg of what they will do when Congress begins to discus lifting the prohibition on trips by US citizens to Cuba, something that in this new context is approaching like the famous device invented during the French Revolution.