HAVANA TIMES — The governments of Cuba and the United States have maintained a series of negotiations in different areas of common interest for a number of years now. The two countries refer to such talks as “technical” in nature, but they could well represent the preamble of deeper and more political negotiations.
The issues discussed till now are related to ecological disasters, immigration, rescue and salvage operations, aviation safety, postal services, seismology and inter-military relations at the Guantanamo Naval Base. Curiously, the United States has not wanted to include the fight against drug trafficking on the agenda.
Agreements that have had positive results have been reached in some of these areas. Talks surrounding aviation safety, for instance, allowed for satisfactory bilateral coordination during an incident involving a US light plane that crossed Cuban airspace and crashed in Jamaica in September.
The essential issues behind the conflict – the embargo, the nationalized US properties, the financing given Cuba’s opposition, human rights, the inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, those imprisoned in the two countries and the Guantanamo Base – continue to go unaddressed.
Cuba’s highest authorities have repeatedly told the United States they are willing to sit down and negotiate any issue Washington cares to lay on the table, provided talks are based on three basic principles: such conversations must be undertaken as equals, in acknowledgement of the sovereignty of States, without any meddling in the internal affairs of the other.
Cuban analysts insist that these principles “are set in Stone” and that they are recognized by the UN, adding that, on previous occasions, the United States found it hard to sit down and negotiate on equal footing with a small island in its “backyard” that has very few resources and a mere 11 million inhabitants.
What’s more, when Havana insists on talks “among equals”, it also means to say that, on such controversial issues as human rights, it will not only debate about Cuban dissidents but also about the situation in the United States, extra-judicial detentions, torture, selective murder and police violence.
Some previous attempts at a rapprochement failed because Cuba did not accept the demands made by the United States. At different points in history, the latter demanded the suspension of support for revolutionary movements in Latin America, the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Africa, the breaking of ties with the Soviet Union and a change in its political system as a condition for negotiations.
One of the most urgent issues the two countries face right now are the prison sentences of 3 Cuban agents in the United States and a US agent in Cuba. While Washington calls for the unconditional release of Alan Gross, Havana proposes a “humanitarian solution”: an exchange that will benefit the four detainees.
The White House insists Cuba ought to unilaterally release Alan Gross because his detention is the main obstacle to a bilateral rapprochement. In 2010, the United States even terminated all contracts with the island to pressure Havana, resuming talks 2 years later.
For the Cuban government, the release of its 3 agents – considered heroes on the island – is also a very sensitive issue that it would no doubt put on the agenda. It does not, however, appear to be an obstacle to negotiate other issues, if its counterpart requested this previously.
No one in Cuba knows for certain whether Obama will take any decisive steps in this connection in what remains of his term in office, but many believe there have never been better conditions for such a step – not even the Carter administration had a better opportunity when diplomatic headquarters were opened in the two countries and maritime and fishing agreements were signed.
During the Obama presidency, there have been no tense situations and the rhetoric in both countries has been less aggressive. Most émigrés, including important businesspeople, support a rapprochement, and The New York Times has recently published six editorials calling for a change in policy towards Cuba.
The main problem today may be the intensification of Cuba’s financial persecution, but that may not be a policy aimed at the island in particular, but rather a repercussion of being on the United States’ list of countries that sponsor terrorism, something which Obama could easily change.
In its most recent editorial, The New York Times notes how the old confrontation mechanisms become contradictory in today’s context. While maintaining a quick-visa program aimed at persuading Cuban medical doctors to leave their missions abroad, the US government publicly acknowledges the role that the island’s physicians are playing in Africa and even collaborates with them in the struggle against Ebola.
At the international level, all of Latin America and the United States’ European allies are pushing Washington to cease in its policy of hostility towards Cuba. Regional governments included the island in the Summit of the Americas, despite Washington’s protests, while Brussels negotiates an agreement with Havana.
Cuban politicians consulted prefer not to speak on the basis of speculation and avoid addressing the issue, but they appear to have certain expectations, as though they were convinced that the ball is in their counterparts’ court.
The average Cuban, however, does not seem that hopeful. It wouldn’t be the first time negotiations begin and meet with frustration after the initial steps. What’s more, nearly everyone has in some way become accustomed to living this way: 70 percent of Cubans have lived under the embargo since the day they were born.
(*) Visit the webpage of Fernando Ravsberg.