Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is Cuba Ready to Negotiate with the USA?

Is Cuba Ready to Negotiate with the USA?
November 19, 2014
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — The governments of Cuba and the United States have
maintained a series of negotiations in different areas of common
interest for a number of years now. The two countries refer to such
talks as "technical" in nature, but they could well represent the
preamble of deeper and more political negotiations.

The issues discussed till now are related to ecological disasters,
immigration, rescue and salvage operations, aviation safety, postal
services, seismology and inter-military relations at the Guantanamo
Naval Base. Curiously, the United States has not wanted to include the
fight against drug trafficking on the agenda.

Agreements that have had positive results have been reached in some of
these areas. Talks surrounding aviation safety, for instance, allowed
for satisfactory bilateral coordination during an incident involving a
US light plane that crossed Cuban airspace and crashed in Jamaica in

The essential issues behind the conflict – the embargo, the nationalized
US properties, the financing given Cuba's opposition, human rights, the
inclusion of Cuba in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, those
imprisoned in the two countries and the Guantanamo Base – continue to go

Cuba's highest authorities have repeatedly told the United States they
are willing to sit down and negotiate any issue Washington cares to lay
on the table, provided talks are based on three basic principles: such
conversations must be undertaken as equals, in acknowledgement of the
sovereignty of States, without any meddling in the internal affairs of
the other.

Cuban analysts insist that these principles "are set in Stone" and that
they are recognized by the UN, adding that, on previous occasions, the
United States found it hard to sit down and negotiate on equal footing
with a small island in its "backyard" that has very few resources and a
mere 11 million inhabitants.

What's more, when Havana insists on talks "among equals", it also means
to say that, on such controversial issues as human rights, it will not
only debate about Cuban dissidents but also about the situation in the
United States, extra-judicial detentions, torture, selective murder and
police violence.

Some previous attempts at a rapprochement failed because Cuba did not
accept the demands made by the United States. At different points in
history, the latter demanded the suspension of support for revolutionary
movements in Latin America, the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Africa,
the breaking of ties with the Soviet Union and a change in its political
system as a condition for negotiations.

One of the most urgent issues the two countries face right now are the
prison sentences of 3 Cuban agents in the United States and a US agent
in Cuba. While Washington calls for the unconditional release of Alan
Gross, Havana proposes a "humanitarian solution": an exchange that will
benefit the four detainees.

The White House insists Cuba ought to unilaterally release Alan Gross
because his detention is the main obstacle to a bilateral rapprochement.
In 2010, the United States even terminated all contracts with the island
to pressure Havana, resuming talks 2 years later.

For the Cuban government, the release of its 3 agents – considered
heroes on the island – is also a very sensitive issue that it would no
doubt put on the agenda. It does not, however, appear to be an obstacle
to negotiate other issues, if its counterpart requested this previously.

No one in Cuba knows for certain whether Obama will take any decisive
steps in this connection in what remains of his term in office, but many
believe there have never been better conditions for such a step – not
even the Carter administration had a better opportunity when diplomatic
headquarters were opened in the two countries and maritime and fishing
agreements were signed.

During the Obama presidency, there have been no tense situations and the
rhetoric in both countries has been less aggressive. Most émigrés,
including important businesspeople, support a rapprochement, and The New
York Times has recently published six editorials calling for a change in
policy towards Cuba.

The main problem today may be the intensification of Cuba's financial
persecution, but that may not be a policy aimed at the island in
particular, but rather a repercussion of being on the United States'
list of countries that sponsor terrorism, something which Obama could
easily change.

In its most recent editorial, The New York Times notes how the old
confrontation mechanisms become contradictory in today's context. While
maintaining a quick-visa program aimed at persuading Cuban medical
doctors to leave their missions abroad, the US government publicly
acknowledges the role that the island's physicians are playing in Africa
and even collaborates with them in the struggle against Ebola.

At the international level, all of Latin America and the United States'
European allies are pushing Washington to cease in its policy of
hostility towards Cuba. Regional governments included the island in the
Summit of the Americas, despite Washington's protests, while Brussels
negotiates an agreement with Havana.

Cuban politicians consulted prefer not to speak on the basis of
speculation and avoid addressing the issue, but they appear to have
certain expectations, as though they were convinced that the ball is in
their counterparts' court.

The average Cuban, however, does not seem that hopeful. It wouldn't be
the first time negotiations begin and meet with frustration after the
initial steps. What's more, nearly everyone has in some way become
accustomed to living this way: 70 percent of Cubans have lived under the
embargo since the day they were born.

Source: Is Cuba Ready to Negotiate with the USA? - Havana -

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