HAVANA TIMES — Cuba and the United States return to the negotiating table on Monday in Havana to hold the third meeting of the bilateral commission, created last year to advance the process of normalization of relations between the two countries.
“The agreements reached at the second meeting of the Commission, held in Washington on November 10, 2015, will be reviewed, and the results obtained since,” said a statement released on Thursday by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX).
In this third round of negotiations, the delegations will be led by the director of the North America Foreign Ministry Desk, Josefina Vidal, and the Counselor of the Secretary of State, Kristie Kenney.
Issues of mutual interest
The MINREX statement added that the meeting will serve to define the actions for the remainder of the year to advance the process of improving relations, which includes conducting technical meetings, signing cooperation agreements on issues of mutual interest, the realization of high-level visits in both directions and holding dialogues on issues of bilateral and multilateral interest in which the parties do not have overlapping positions.
The Cuban government said it will reiterate its call for the US to lift the embargo, return the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base to Cuba and remove other policies considered harmful to Cuban sovereignty.
A State Department source confirmed the meeting but gave no details of the discussion topics.
The Bilateral Commission was created in August 2015 to monitor the links between the two countries after the restoration of diplomatic relations. Its first meeting was held in Havana on September 11, 2015, followed by the Washington meeting in November.
The man expelled
The announcement of the meeting was made in Havana by Gustavo Machin, the deputy Foreign Minister for US matters. Machin, former first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, was expelled by the State Department in November 2002. He has been a key figure in bilateral negotiations, but his role has been reduced to the tasks of the Cuban delegation in Havana, without traveling to the United States.
During the meeting with the press, Machin summarized a series of advances in bilateral relations:
– The three meetings held between President Raul Castro and Barack Obama.
– Several high-level visits in both directions.
– Establishment of the mechanism of bilateral commission to monitor relations.
– Expansion of cooperation that existed before the reestablishment of diplomatic relations on issues of common interest (aviation security, drug trafficking, immigration fraud)
– Signing of nine agreements: on the environment, restoration of direct mail service, regular flights, safety of maritime navigation, on agriculture, security of travelers and trade.
– Open dialogue on issues of bilateral and multilateral interest, such as climate change, compensation claims, human trafficking and human rights.
– Telecommunications service agreements: with IDT, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile.
– Contracts for the management and marketing of two hotels with Starwood company.
– Permission for entry of Carnival cruise ships.
Machin noted the ban on the use of the dollar in international financial transactions remains unchanged, which prevents Cuban entities from performing any banking operation in that currency. In March, the Treasury Department announced that the Cuban government was authorized to use the dollar, but the measure has not been made effective.
In return, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that Cuba would withdraw the tax of 10% on the US cash dollar when exchanging for convertible pesos (CUC), but only if Cuban banks were able to operate with the dollar in the international arena, which has yet to occur.
Regarding the resumption of regular flights, Machin said that currently the United States is in the process of awarding the routes to US carriers for 110 authorized daily flights. The process should be completed in July and then the airlines will enter into negotiations for the direct flights with the Cuban government. It is expected that direct commercial flights between the two countries begin operating in the fall.