Cuba-US Talks Begin in Havana

to open a new era

By Isaac Risco

A US flag flying on a Havana bicycle taxi. Photo: ipsnews.net

HAVANA TIMES — There are unusual images to be seen these days in Havana. US flags flying on balconies in the heart of the Cuban capital, for example, or the arrival of many US visitors and journalists to cover a historic negotiation between the governments of Washington and Havana that opens today.

People are “very excited about the prospect of a change,” said US Congressman Chris Van Hollen, showing a pin with the flags of the United States and Cuba on his jacket, after a three-day visit to the island along with five other US parliamentarians.

After talks on migration issues on Wednesday, Washington and Havana will open a political negotiation on Thursday unthinkable just five weeks ago before US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro made simultaneous announcements that the two countries would restore diplomatic relations after more than half a century break.

“In Cuba we are ending a policy that had long since reached its expiration date. When you do something that doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something different,” reiterated Obama in his annual State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday night.

The high level delegations began meeting today at the Havana Convention Center on the west side of the capital, but it is on Thursday that they are scheduled to begin negotiations to draw up a roadmap to normalize diplomatic ties broken off by the US in 1961.

The discussions on Wednesday will focus on mechanisms to regulate Cuban migration to the US and to combat human trafficking, one of the few bilateral contacts both countries have held, with some interruptions, since the 90s.

The US negotiating team is led by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, and Cuba’s by Josefina Vidal, director for US affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

“We hope to establish civilized relations between the two countries, which have deep differences and different perspectives on various issues,” said a Cuban official on Tuesday regarding the expectations of Havana.

“Cuba repeats its willingness to continue holding a respectful dialogue with the US government, (…) without undermining national independence and the self-determination of the Cuban people,” said the foreign ministry official, who requested anonymity when speaking on the positions that the government of Raul Castro will bring to the negotiations table.

The Cuban president said in December that his country would not give up its one-party communist system in its rapprochement with the United States.

The restoration of diplomatic ties is a “long and complex process,” also warned the Cuban official.

Both countries must open respective embassies in Washington and Havana after a negotiation process. After Thursday’s talks, Jacobson is scheduled to give a press conference in Havana on Friday. Havana Times will be present.

The reconciliation with Cuba faces an uphill battle in the US Congress as many of the majority Republicans oppose the change in US policy towards the neighboring island nation.

Although Obama approved several measures that soften the US embargo imposed on Cuba for over five decades, only Congress can formally lift the restrictions, which have the force of law.

The executive measures, which took effect on January 16, provide greater opportunities for US citizens to travel to Cuba and American companies to sell technology and do some business with the island.

In his State of the Union address, Obama once again defended the new approach as the end of a failed policy of decades of isolation. The surprise move has been applauded almost unanimously in the region.

“Our change in policy toward Cuba has the potential to wipe out a legacy of distrust in our hemisphere, remove false excuses for restrictions in Cuba, defend democratic values and extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” said the president before Congress.

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Cuba-US Talks Begin in Havana

  • January 21, 2015 at 9:35 am
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    I wonder how much open coverage of the press conference with Roberta Jacobson will be provided by the Cuban media? The Castro regime runs a risk that the US diplomat might say things they don’t want the Cuban people to hear.

    A group of US politicians visted Cuba this week and in addition to meeting with government officials, they also met with a group of Cuban dissidents, including Antonio G.Rodiles, Berta Soler, Eliécer Ávila, Elizardo Sánchez, Héctor Maseda, José Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Miriam Celaya, Miriam Leyva, Yoani Sánchez, and Martha Beatriz Roque.

    The Cubans had a variety of opinions on Obama’s new Cuba policies. Some opposed him, some supported him, all of them had questions and warnings for the US delegation.

    The Cuban dissidents released a statement following the meeting:

    “The Castro regime is in fact ruling the country unconstitutionally, and in order to comply with all of President Obama’s proposals, all of these [human rights] violations will have to continue. It is wrong to think that the gerontocracy [that rules Cuba] will change its internal policies, especially its laws, in order to please the Americans, because to do so would cause them to lose their power….

    ….Little will be achieved by our visitors, especially because they leave knowing that there is no consensus among the dissidents, but at least they can return home with a clear message: “this is a problem for the Cuban nation to solve, because for many years it has aspired for democracy to be established in this country, and if the United States of America continues to commit the same errors with which it began this process of engagement, the whole process is destined to fail and to increase the hardships of the life of poverty endured by those who live on this island under the Castro dictatorship and have had to endure it for three generations.”

    When Obama announced his new policy in his speech in December, he declared that the Summit of the Americas meeting in Panama should welcome the Cuban government but also representatives of Cuban civil society.

    It seems reasonable that representatives of Cuban civil society also attend talks between the Cuban & US governments. The Cuban people have a right to be consulted on the emerging new relationship with the US.

    Otherwise, the US risks falling back on the old habits of the interventions in Cuban politics from a hundred years ago. Several times in the first half of the last century, the US intervened during Cuban political crises, in support of the ruling party at the time. The US claimed they were acting in the name of ensuring stability and democracy. In practice, the US was really mostly protecting & promoting US business interests in Cuba.

    It would be ironic indeed, if the US engages with the Castro government to promote US business interests in Cuba by supporting the ruling party and excluding the opposition from discussions, as the US did in the past.

    Reply
  • January 21, 2015 at 10:27 am
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    Item #1 that Asst. Secretary Jacobson should demand from the Cubans is the lifting of restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Benjamin Franklin once said, “‘Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” If Cubans were free to share their political differences in the public square, all other impediments to a free and democratic Cuba would soon fall.

    Reply
    • January 21, 2015 at 1:32 pm
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      I think that if the US government demands the lifting of restrictions on freedom of speech, press and assembly, it should also do the same for China and other communist governments. I mean, why pick on small island of 11 million people. I’m sure that in China, there is a violation of freedoms that far surpass the population of Cuba on a daily basis considering that China has a population of 1.357 billion. If you look at the recent US coverage of what happened in New York, Ferguson, and the torturing of people in Guantanamo, we have to admit that progress needs to be made in the US too as far as respecting basic human rights. I believe that restoring diplomatic relations, and opening up of their economy to US products is a start, and who knows from there.

      Reply
      • January 21, 2015 at 3:15 pm
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        First, of all, this is not elementary school. It is not a valid excuse to say that if the US does not demand X from China, we should not demand X from Cuba. Every country is different and intelligent foreign policy recognizes that. Second, Cuba is worse than China in the most blatant human rights violations. Third, what happens in Ferguson, albeit deplorable, has nothing to do with Cuba. Finally, it would be idiotic to not have a plan beyond restoring diplomatic relations. It’s a good thing that you are not Secretary of State.

        Reply
      • January 21, 2015 at 4:08 pm
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        For years, one of the standard arguments against the US embargo was “Well, the US trades with China, so they shouldn’t have an embargo on Cuba either.”

        And now we see a variation on that argument, “Well, the US doesn’t demand China improve their human rights, so they shouldn’t pick on Cuba either”.

        There are several problems with that type of argument, including the resort to a superficial moral equivalence and the ignorance of history. The US used to have an embargo on China, for over 30 years, until China agreed to negotiate the outstanding issues between the US & China. When a settlement was reached, the US embargo on China was lifted.

        Secondly, the US does regularly raise the issue of human rights in China, much to the consternation of the Chinese government.

        Reply
    • January 21, 2015 at 4:28 pm
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      So what should Cuba .. “DEMAND” of the US a? Mr Moses…..it’s a 2 way street sir….like it or not…..US can DEMAND….but Cuba Cant…..sounds fair…and familiar

      Reply
      • January 21, 2015 at 11:53 pm
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        Fair question. For starters, no more pro-democracy schemes done without the approval of the government. Cuba should ask for no government-funded actions meant to influence public opinion. I could go on but you see the trend.

        Reply
      • January 22, 2015 at 8:08 am
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        The US make their demands while Cuba make their demands. That’s how negotiations work.

        Don’t pretend that the Cuban government has never made any demands of the US: end the embargo, end the Cuban Adjustment Act, return the Cuban Five, hand over Posada Carriles, remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, & etc.

        When two countries agree to sit down and negotiate differences and issues between them, they each agree to hear the other side’s demands.

        Reply
  • January 23, 2015 at 12:56 pm
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    I am from Vancouver,Canada and I wanted to say that the U.s.gov. likes to talk about human rights in different countries.During the Nicaragua revolution the USA supported the contras in their murderous campaign against the people of Nicaragua. Then they accused the FSLN of human right abuses.They did the same in El Salvador during the war there.The U.S. Gov supports Luis Posada Carilles who bombed a Cuban Airliner in 1976 and killed everyone on board and orgs like the Ladies in White who supports Luis Posada Carilles. and then accuses Cuba of human rights abuses.This hypocrisy won’t work in Cuba.

    Reply

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