Wednesday, May 20, 2015

U.S. willing to change pro-democracy programs in Cuba

U.S. willing to change pro-democracy programs in Cuba
By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday indicated its
willingness to change pro-democracy programs which it organizes in Cuba
and which are condemned by Havana, removing one of the biggest
impediments to restoring diplomatic ties.

A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters before talks
with Cuban representatives on Thursday, said the sides had narrowed
differences over reopening embassies since an agreement was reached in
December to renew diplomatic relations.

The official said another obstacle had been removed after Cuba found a
U.S. bank that would handle the accounts of a restored Cuban embassy in
Washington. The official declined to name the bank.

M&T Bank Corp canceled its services with Cuba's Interests Section in
Washington in 2013 and Havana blamed the move on U.S. sanctions.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the democracy
programs "have changed over time, and they will continue to change over
time to reflect a reality, whether that reality is on the ground in Cuba
or in the United States."

The programs include courses in journalism and information technology at
the U.S. mission in Havana. The United States sees them as normal
diplomatic functions, but Cuban President Raul Castro said last week
that they were "illegal" training for government opponents.

The official said the programs have already been adapted but the United
States would not halt them because they were the most direct way of
supporting ordinary Cubans.

The talks in Washington on Thursday are the fourth round since U.S.
President Barack Obama and Castro agreed on Dec. 17 to restore
diplomatic relations, which were severed in 1961 during the Cold War.

They will focus on upgrading the "interests sections" in Washington and
Havana to embassies. Washington also wants an end to restrictions on the
movement of its diplomats in Havana and the removal of Cuban security
police around its premises.

Cuba signaled on Monday that it was ready to move ahead, saying it did
not see any obstacles.

In the U.S. Congress lawmakers who oppose and support close ties with
Havana introduced Cuba-related legislation.

Two Republican senators who oppose normalizing ties, Marco Rubio of
Florida and Louisiana's David Vitter, introduced a bill that would make
ending restrictions on travel and trade conditional on Cuba resolving
billions of dollars in claims over property seized during the island's
communist revolution.

Another group of senators introduced a bill that would open the way for
U.S. telecommunications and Internet companies to provide services and
devices in Cuba.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle.; Editing by David Storey,
Andre Grenon and Andrew Hay)

Source: U.S. willing to change pro-democracy programs in Cuba - Yahoo
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