Saturday, January 31, 2015

Washington and Havana Break the Ice

Washington and Havana Break the Ice

A couple of years after America's attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961,
the disastrous intervention known as the Bay of Pigs, an envoy President
John F. Kennedy secretly dispatched to Havana posed an odd question to
the Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.

"Do you know how porcupines make love?" James Donovan asked, to make a
point about how hard it would be to establish a trustful relationship
between Washington and Havana. "Very carefully."

More than a half century later, as American and Cuban officials faced
each other last week for historic talks to begin normalizing relations,
it was evident that trust remains in short supply. But this first step
in the present détente bodes well for a process that will require
patience and deft managing of expectations in both countries.

Having been indoctrinated for decades to view the American government
with suspicion and resentment, Cubans across the island were mesmerized
by a week that was as remarkable for some of the things that happened as
it was for those that did not.

A vivacious senior Cuban diplomat, Josefina Vidal, substantively
answered questions about the thaw from international and Cuban
journalists during a televised news conference, a rare sight in a
country where official statements are typically oblique and issued in
writing. Remarks to the press by Roberta Jacobson, the United States
assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, were also
televised and covered by Cuba's state media without the usual
condemnatory tone reserved for American policy.

The two women agreed to disagree on a lot, including what role
Washington could play to promote greater freedoms in the authoritarian
nation. But breaking with a tradition of charged rhetoric on both sides,
Ms. Vidal and Ms. Jacobson treated each other civilly.

"Despite the profound differences between the two countries, the
exchanges unfolded in a respectful and professional manner," Ms. Vidal said.

Ms. Jacobson held a high-profile meeting with dissidents; the Cuban
government did not stop it or publicly condemn it. She also visited the
home of a prominent blogger, Yoani Sánchez, where she gave an interview
to the independent news site Ms. Sánchez runs from her living room. "As
journalists, we're witnessing historic days, in which information is a
winner," Ms. Sánchez tweeted.

José Daniel Ferrer, a leading dissident, said he has reassessed his
early concern that normalization of relations would embolden the Cuban
government and hurt the cause of those who have been pressing for
democratic reforms. "The road is going to be very long and hard," said
Mr. Ferrer, the head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, who met with Ms.
Jacobson and other senior diplomats during her visit. "But I think that
if we are able to work smartly and give it our best, we can advance a
lot under these new parameters."

Glued to the news, Cuban entrepreneurs were abuzz about the
opportunities the new relationship could bring. Some Cuban journalists,
meanwhile, suggested that it might be time for more media outlets to
operate independent of state control.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
What was arguably most striking about the momentous week in Havana was
that neither of the Castro brothers was seen or heard from. But this
week, Fidel Castro broke his silence about the new era with the United
States, making a brief mention of the talks at the end of a lengthy
letter published Monday by the Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

"I don't trust American policies," Mr. Castro wrote, adding that he
nonetheless supported negotiations about the countries' differences
through diplomacy. "We will always defend cooperation and friendship
with all nations on earth, among them our political adversaries."

President Raúl Castro, meanwhile, said in a speech on Wednesday that the
road to normalization will be long, as he listed a lengthy set of
grievances, including the American naval base in Guantánamo Bay and the
sanctions against the island.

"We were able to advance in this recent negotiation because we treated
each other with respect, as equals," he said.

With plenty of people in both countries skeptical about the merits of a
thaw, Cuban and American officials will need to be pragmatic and patient
as they begin to untangle a toxic relationship laden with five decades
of acrimony, resentment and mistrust. Given the enthusiasm and
expectation the new era has sparked among ordinary Cubans and Americans
alike, allowing the détente to collapse would be a loss for both sides.

Source: Washington and Havana Break the Ice - -

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