Monday, January 26, 2015

Cuba digs in heels on concessions as part of better US ties

Cuba digs in heels on concessions as part of better US ties
01/26/2015 4:15 AM 01/26/2015 4:15 AM

The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to
have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning
additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater
freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for
the country's struggling economy.

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two
nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms
pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise
move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the
Communist-led country.

"One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with
the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top
diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press
after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."

It's not clear if Cuba's tough stance is part of normal negotiation
tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving

The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to
rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also
could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in
2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela,
which has been a vital source of economic support.

In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to
allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers
about Obama's dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale
sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open
accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if
Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use
dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly
permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and
policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.

"I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require
a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what
possibilities are going to open up," Vidal said.

Obama also launched a review of Cuba's inclusion on the U.S. list of
state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said "it will be difficult to
conceive of the reestablishment of relations" while Cuba remains on that
list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.

Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress
lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren't affected by
Obama's executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a
Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a
ban on routine tourism to Cuba.

Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom
of movement around Cuba, she said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of
dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine
the government of behalf of U.S. interests.

"It's associated with a change in behavior in the diplomatic missions as
such and of the diplomatic officials, who must conduct themselves as our
officials in Washington do, with total respect for the laws of that
country," Vidal said.

She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S.
fugitives granted asylum in Cuba. The warming of relations has spawned
new demands in the U.S. for the State Department to seek the return of
fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army member now
known as Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted in 1977
of killing a New Jersey state trooper.

Vidal said the two nations' extradition treaty "had a very clear clause
saying that the agreement didn't apply to people who could be tied to
crimes of a political nature."

But the opening already has led to some changes, at least in the
short-term: Cuba significantly relaxed its near-total control of public
information during the talks in Havana, allowing the live broadcast of
news conferences in which foreign reporters questioned Vidal about
sensitive topics including human rights. Cuban television even broadcast
part of a news conference with Vidal's counterpart, Roberta Jacobson, to
foreign reporters, state media and independent Cuban reporters who are
considered members of the opposition.

Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted
to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.

"We've seen so much, really so much more than what we're used to, about
very sensitive topics in our country," said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old
retired state worker.

Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park
bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party
newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson's press conference.

"It's good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of
the head of the Interests Section," Rivero said. "But I think they
should explain much more so that the whole population really understands
what's going on."

Source: Cuba digs in heels on concessions as part of better US ties |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

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