Sunday, January 25, 2015

US, Cuba end historic talks with more questions than answers

US, Cuba end historic talks with more questions than answers
01/24/2015 3:35 AM 01/24/2015 3:35 AM

After a euphoric month that left Americans dreaming of holidays in
Havana and Cubans imagining U.S. products at their corner stores, the
first real effort at forging a new era was sobering: Much bitter
disagreement still stands in the way of normal relations.

Negotiations between seasoned Cuban diplomats and the highest-level U.S.
delegation to visit the island in 35 years failed to produce a single
significant agreement — beyond the need for more talks. As Roberta
Jacobson, America's top diplomat for Latin America, told reporters,
"It's very hard to say how exactly this will work."

The two days of discussions were hyped, starting hours after President
Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union address that the new
engagement effort had "the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our
hemisphere" and provided "new hope for the future in Cuba."

Yet by Friday it appeared negotiators hadn't even advanced Obama's most
basic objective: restoring diplomatic ties between the U.S. and
President Raul Castro's government, with full-fledged embassies in each
other's capitals.

On Thursday, Jacobson called re-establishing diplomatic relations a
"relatively straightforward process." A day later, her Cuban counterpart
suggested a central U.S. demand of unrestricted travel for U.S.
diplomats was already being snarled in one of the most contentious
points of the long-fraught U.S.-Cuban relationship — Washington's
support for dissidents the Cuban government sees as mercenaries seeking
to undermine the communist system.

Josefina Vidal, Cuba's top diplomat for the United States, said in an
interview with The Associated Press that U.S. support for dissidents is
"action that isn't acceptable for Cuba, and they know it."

Asked whether Cuba would allow U.S. diplomats to go where they want, she
said, "for Cuba, this consideration is associated with better behavior."

At its most fundamental level, the U.S.-Cuba divide comes down to
separate visions of where closer ties should lead.

Jacobson said the U.S. goal is a Cuba that is "free and democratic."
Vidal outlined an entirely different idea — that of two states with deep
differences but no economic or diplomatic restrictions, like the
relationship the U.S. enjoys with China.

"I don't see why it is that difficult to have relations with Cuba,"
Vidal said.

This disconnect surfaced several times this week.

At one point, the U.S. and Cuba disagreed on whether human rights even
had been discussed. When Cuban officials acknowledged the subject was
broached, they stressed their desire to help ameliorate human rights
problems in the U.S., from police killings of black men to Guantanamo
Bay detentions.

Jacobson on Friday reinforced the U.S. call for greater political
freedom in Cuba, something Cuban-American leaders and rights advocates
fear has been overshadowed in the push for detente. She met a group of
dissidents in the morning and then spoke to influential Cuban blogger
Yoani Sanchez.

Human rights, Jacobson said, are the "center" of U.S. policy in Cuba.
But she didn't say Cuba must improve its human rights record to have a
better relationship with the U.S.

Republican leaders in Congress take a different view and hold the power
to end America's 54-year economic embargo of Cuba — the communist
government's biggest desire.

Asked whether Cuba might at least examine how to expand freedoms to help
the Obama administration with Congress, Vidal said, "Absolutely no."

"Change in Cuba isn't negotiable."

Throughout the talks, both sides stressed that the road ahead would be
long, the differences on some issues profound.

Cuba last week freed 53 political prisoners whose release the U.S.
demanded, but that was hardly mentioned. The Americans spoke of their
action last week to ease travel and trade rules with the island with new
regulations that both sides seemed to be still trying to make sense of.

Asked about one of the most potentially far-reaching U.S. changes,
permission for U.S. telecommunications exports to Cuba, Jacobson wasn't
able to predict how American companies or the Cuban government might

Cuba has notoriously poor cellular phone and Internet infrastructure and
hasn't said whether it even wants to increase its citizens' access to
outside information. But to take advantage of the more lenient telecoms
and other U.S. rules, it will need access to U.S. credit — something the
government attributes to the embargo.

On other obstacles to warmer relations the two sides only began work
this week. Each wants the other to return fugitives accused of grave
crimes. There is also the question of the billions of dollars in claims
against Cuba's government dating back to Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

Another of Cuba's key concerns is getting off a U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism, a relic of the government's support for left-wing
rebellions in Latin America and elsewhere during the Cold War. American
officials are sympathetic to the demand yet are bound by process. The
current review of Cuba's status could take several more months.


Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Source: US, Cuba end historic talks with more questions than answers |
The Miami Herald The Miami Herald -

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