Cuban diplomats in Washington will host émigrés for talks on U.S. policy
toward the island
The Cuban émigrés and Cuban diplomats will talk about how to change U.S.
policy toward the island.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cuban diplomats in Washington will host an estimated 150 friendly Cubans
living in the United States on Saturday for a by-invitation-only
gathering to discuss how to change U.S. policies toward the island.
The invitations to the "First National Meeting of Cubans in the United
States, for Unity and the Change in Policy Toward Cuba," included
questionnaires that must be returned to the Cuban diplomatic mission in
Washington, along with photos.
The gathering and others like it — one took place in Spain last week —
are part of ruler Raúl Castro's drive to improve relations with Cubans
living abroad. Backers say he is seeking reconciliation with them, while
critics say he wants their money.
The list of invitees was not made public. But several Cubans who
privately confirmed they had been invited support the Castro government
or have business interests with Cuba. Not even moderate Castro critics
are known to have been invited.
A letter accompanying the invitations lists more than 50 years of
"arbitrary" U.S. policies toward Cuba, from the "criminal and unjust"
trade embargo to assassination attempts and terrorist attacks that have
"taken thousands of lives."
The U.S. government also "unjustly" jailed five Cuban spies arrested in
South Florida and keeps the communist ruled island on its list of
countries that support international terrorism, the letter noted.
"It is time to end so much evil and say enough," it added. "The people
of Cuba and the United States are destined to live as good neighbors,
based on the principle of respect for the sovereignty and independence
of each country."
The invitation says the gathering will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Cuban
Interests Section in Washington, which acts in lieu of an embassy in the
absence of full diplomatic relations.
It gave no detailed agenda and Cuban diplomats did not answer a request
for comment. One person invited said the hall where the group will
gather holds about 150 people, and another said he had been told the
gathering would end Saturday night with a cocktail.
An estimated 2 million Cubans live abroad, the vast majority of them in
the United States, although the diaspora extends to Spain, Mexico and
other Spanish-speaking countries and as far away as China, Pakistan and
Castro has said his government is planning a broad reform of its
migration regulations. But there have been unconfirmed reports that
hardliners are blocking any major easing of the ultra-tight controls on
Cubans who want to leave or return to the island.
Under a recent change, Cubans who were once forced to hand their
property to the government when they emigrated can now pass it to
anyone. About 400,000 émigrés visited Cuba in 2011, a significant hike
from 2010, according to travel agency officials.
The first announcement of the Washington gathering, issued in February,
painted it as part of a Cuban government campaign to normalize relations
with émigrés that went back to the controversial "dialogue" in
1978-1979. That led to the release of some 3,000 political prisoners,
and permission for exiles to visit Cuba for the first time since 1959.
Those talks were followed by the several "Nation and Emigration"
conferences held in Havana from 1994 to 2010. Those gatherings, attended
usually by 300-350 Cuban émigrés, were always tightly controlled by the
The gathering last week at the Cuban embassy in Madrid brought together
200 émigrés, according to Luis Pérez, who said he has lived in Spain for
28 years and heads the 5,000- member Federation of Associations of
Cubans resident in Spain, created in January.
Pérez told the Efe news agency that the meeting was designed to
eliminate the wrong impression that all Cubans living abroad are
opponents of the government. They are mostly migrants, like those from
any other country, he argued.