Cigar case illustration from 1902.

HAVANA TIMES — The United States and Cuba celebrated their third round of negotiations towards resuming diplomatic relations at a meeting held in Havana on Monday with greater secrecy than the previous two encounters, reported dpa news.

As in their first two meetings in January in Havana and February in Washington, the delegations were led by US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, and the director of US affairs of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal.

Jacobson arrived in Havana on Sunday, this time heading a smaller delegation, according to the little information from US sources on the island.

The negotiating teams were not expected to appear before the press like after the first two rounds of talks.

The resumption of negotiations, just over two weeks after the last appointment, comes amid unrest in the region caused over Washington declaring Venezuela a risk to its national security.

Over the weekend the Cuban foreign ministry issued a statement saying today’s session would “exchange on issues related to the process of restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.”

The State Department initially reported that the delegation headed by the highest US representative to the region should return home by midweek.

Although both countries have so far talked about “progress” in the process to resume diplomatic relations announced in December, a concrete timetable is still forthcoming.

The Obama administration wants to reopen its embassy in Havana before the Summit of the Americas set for April 10-11 in Panama, with the leaders of all countries from the continent expected to attend, Cuba included.

Cuba, meanwhile, has stressed that the US should remove the island from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as well as solve the problems of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington (which would now become an embassy) to open a bank account.

In recent days, the government of Raul Castro hardened slightly its tone against the United States because of the new sanctions imposed by Washington on Venezuela, Cuba’s top ally.

A few days ago, Obama called the situation in Venezuela, where several opposition leaders have been jailed in the past year, as a “threat to the national security of the United States.”

The Cuban government, which depends heavily on cheap oil from the government of Nicolas Maduro, rejected what it called a policy of “carrot for Cuba and stick to Venezuela.”

On Sunday night Castro sympathizers organized a concert in support of the Venezuelan government and people on the steps of the University of Havana, shortly after the arrival of Jacobson to the island.

Other Latin American countries, including Bolivia and Nicaragua, also harshly criticized the United States.

On Saturday an extraordinary meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) foreign ministers held in Quito asked the Obama administration to repeal the sanctions on Venezuelan officials.

Unasur, criticized for months by some observers for not condemning the hard line measures from the authorities in Venezuela against the opposition, also reaffirmed their commitment to “nonintervention” in national affairs.

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), formed by left-leaning countries led mainly by Havana and Caracas, will meet Tuesday in the Venezuelan capital to “define a common position” on the “aggression against Venezuela” by the United States.

On April 10-11, all leaders of the region will gather in Panama for the Summit of the Americas, the first attended by Cuba. It will also be the first time that Obama and Raul Castro both take part in an official forum, after the fleeting encounter in late 2013 during the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Obama and Castro announced last December 17 a historic rapprochement between the two countries after decades of hostilities. Washington and Havana agreed to resume diplomatic relations, broken off by the US in 1961, after 18 months of secret negotiations, accompanied by a prisoner exchange.

Despite the diplomatic thaw, both countries have stressed they maintain “profound differences”. The Obama administration has said on several occasions that it remains concerned about the situation of civil liberties on the socialist island.


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