New Negotiation Technique with the Cuban Government

You can’t put off the Human Rights in Cuba negotiation because it’s the key to fixing the “disagreement” the government has with its own people and the “disagreement” that the Cuban government has with the West.

By Marlene Azor Hernandez

La vendedora. Foto: Juan Suarez
La vendedora. Foto: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — According to Harvard’s Negotiation Institute, there are three types of negotiation and negotiators.

Soft negotiators are those who push forward for a deal, making all of the concessions necessary to reach an agreement. The concessions made don’t matter, what’s important is the final deal.

Hard-line negotiators are those who stand firm in their interests and don’t negotiate but stand in the way of any kind of agreement. This is a tough negotiator who tries to win at the expense of his counterpart’s defeat.

Interest-based negotiators pave the way towards a favorable agreement, even fixing the problems that worry their counterpart, so their own interests win out in the end. This is a win-win negotiator.

Obama and soft EU negotiators, two years later

Cuba’s Human Rights issue hasn’t really been dealt with and has been delayed in the negotiations, which began in early 2014 and are still in the works.

Plaza Vieja. Photo: Juan Suarez
Plaza Vieja. Photo: Juan Suarez

According to public information, the Obama administration has raised the topic at both meetings: the first on March 31, 2015, where, according to Cuban government press, they agreed about the “methodology” of discussing this issue.  Then at the second more recent meeting on October 14th 2016, where Obama’s team didn’t release a public statement and the Cuban government was the only one to claim to continue holding the same firm position on civil and political Human Rights.

Cuba’s stance is well-known and is similar to the one that former “Real Socialism” countries proposed, namely that economic, social and cultural rights are the most important, while civil and political rights are Imperialism’s or Western capitalism’s strings to be able to bring about a change in the political regime. Prevailing throughout the Cold War, this way of thinking has largely been left behind by the international community and the UN, which has resolved that all Human Rights are indivisible and should be equally monitored and demanded.

For their part, the European Union has made speedy progress from 2014 until 2016. The EU’s Common Position on Cuba, adopted in 1996, – which limited the EU’s relationship with the Cuban government subject to an improvement in Human Rights on the island-, continues to be in full force regarding its main objectives, while bilateral agreements with member states and the opening of a political dialogue with the EU itself since 2008, has opened the way for pragmatic diplomacy and mutual respect, without abandoning any of its values.

Nighttime customer. Photo: Juan Suarez
Nighttime customer. Photo: Juan Suarez

In the third round of negotiations between the Cuban government and the European Union, – March 4 and 5, 2015 – the disagreements between the two parties about the Cubans involved in cooperation efforts – civil society – were published on the Delegation of the European Union to Cuba’s official website. It noted the refusal to translate compulsory international obligations into national legislation, and the contradictions between the legal and political systems in areas and subjects of government and human rights:

The discussions also allowed to identify elements of divergence on subjects such as the actors involved in cooperation (role of civil society), transposition of international legal obligations and differences in political and legal systems. This was evident particularly in the areas of governance and human rights.[1]

  The Council of the European Union published its annual report about Human Rights and with regard to Cuba it pointed out:

In 2015, arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions of opposition members, activists and human rights activists continued. The Council has communicated its concern to the Cuban authorities in its political dialogue at all levels, on several occasions. The EU and Member States regularly engage in public activities and digital diplomacy with regard to freedom of speech. They have taken part in follow-up activities and have raised awareness about the matter of short-term detentions and violations of freedom of assembly and association rights.

On the other hand, it pointed out:

In 2015, among the EU’s priorities with regard to human rights in Cuba, including the insistence on ratifying the UN’s International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, especially in terms of non-discrimination and violence against women, freedom of speech and association, notably a greater space for civil society activities, as well as freedom of movement. Throughout 2015, the EU and Cuba held negotiation meetings with the aim to reach a bilateral Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, which would create a platform for constructive dialogue and strengthened cooperation. The agreement would allow a dialogue regarding human rights and cooperative efforts within this area to be established, which will reflect the key place that human rights hold in EU-Cuba relations.[2]

With regard to EU meetings with Cuban civil society, it suggested:

The EU Delegation in Havana continues to engage with a wide range of Cuban civil society representatives in the Working Group on the issue of human rights, coordinated by the aforementioned EU Delegation at specific meetings. These direct meetings led to the analysis and follow-up of the situation with particular regard to freedom of speech and association, freedom of belief and labor rights. Upholding open meetings with the Government’s most famous critics was still impossible, especially for EU and Member States’ ministers and high-ranking officials on official visits. [3]

Fishermen and a cruise ship in Havana Harbor.
Fishermen and a cruise ship in Havana Harbor.

The outcome of the negotiations that took place from 2014 until 2016 was a Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement which was signed on December 12, 2016, and will be provisionally applied after the next two months. The Agreement has to be approved by Parliaments in every EU Member State (28), and that is why it will be “provisionally” applied. The European Union hasn’t dealt with the subject of Human Rights with Cuba, except for in the third round of negotiations, March 4th and 5th 2015.

The soft-line negotiation technique that has been used with the Cuban government has produced a significant increase in repression against its citizens and especially against independent civil society. The number of arbitrary arrests has gone from 6,424 in 2013, to over 8,800 in 2014 and 2015 and over 10,000 in 2016 without taking what’s left of December into account.[4] That is to say, that the “benevolence” of the US government and the EU with regard to postponing their demand for Human Rights, all of them, has been a sign of legitimacy for the Cuban government to increase their repression with complete immunity.

Unilateral measures and unilateral statements hinder the negotiations process

Previous outcomes reinforce the need to change the negotiation technique used with the Cuban Government. Negotiations need to be win-win and the hard-line stance of Cuba’s negotiation technique needs to be broken down.

Negotiations need to be proactive, intensive and include concrete, partial and measureable propositions in two or three months maximum. “Large sets of measures” shouldn’t be negotiated because they will only further root the positions of both parties. Transparency is a necessary condition for drawing concrete agreements which are fulfilled with a public declaration made by both parties about what they agree on and what they are forced to do, and when.

Waiting for the bus. Photo: Juan Suarez
Waiting for the bus. Photo: Juan Suarez

The secrecy that the Cuban government imposes on its representatives has proven that this will mean an increase in national repression with complete immunity. While the Cuban government has held 24 high level meetings with the US government over the past two years – they’ve had many more with the EU-, these haven’t directly meant an improvement in the disgraceful number of Human Rights violations in Cuba. Not only in intensity, but also concrete, measurable and assessable results that can be followed up on every two or three months and a public declaration from every group of commitments by both parties, are crucial in unblocking the negotiations process that is already underway.

There are significant violations in Cuba of economic, social and cultural Rights. These “privileged” rights by the Cuban government aren’t recoverable by law or subject to review by a court and therefore are violated in many aspects of everyday Cuban life. Civil and political rights are banned in Cuba, which means that economic, social and cultural rights continue to be violated. To what extent these economic, social and cultural rights are violated in Cuba will be dealt with in my upcoming articles.


European Union, Delegation of the European Union to Cuba’s official website  This information was consulted and copied from this website on April 8th 2016. Summaries of these negotiation sessions that were carried out between the Cuban government and the European Union before March 2016 can no longer be found in English and/or Spanish.
[2]Idem. pg267
[3]Idem. pg267
[4] Please see the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation Webpage, illegal in Cuba, which collects information about the various forms of repression every month since 2010. At and “Cuban Commission on Human Rights foresees an increase in repression on the island” 14 y  December 5th 2016.



One thought on “New Negotiation Technique with the Cuban Government

  • The first and most significant part of negotiation is how to get the other party to the table!

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