Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Obama presses Cuban president to respond to U.S. moves

Obama presses Cuban president to respond to U.S. moves
By Karen DeYoung September 29 at 12:27 PM

UNITED NATIONS — With two rounds of regulatory reform since December,
President Obama has expanded opportunities for Americans to travel,
spend money and set up businesses in Cuba. So far, Cuba seems to have
done little beyond reopening its Washington embassy.

In a meeting here Tuesday with Cuban President Raúl Castro, held on the
margins of the U.N. General Assembly, Obama pressed for a more energetic
Cuban response. "The President welcomed the progress made in
establishing diplomatic relations," a White House statement said after
the meeting, "and underscored that continued reforms in Cuba would
increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes."

Prior to the meeting, which began with a smiling handshake and included
top national security aides on both sides, senior administration
officials were more direct in their description of Obama's message,
saying that if Cuba wants progress on its demand that Congress lift the
long-standing U.S. embargo, it must demonstrate that it is prepared to
take steps opening its economy and respecting human and political rights.

Lawmakers who are supporting bills against the embargo, which the
Republican leadership has thus far declined to bring to the floor, "are
desperate for gestures" from Cuba, "and they aren't getting those
gestures," said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to
discuss administration thinking. "There's been no real give at all" from

"At the beginning, we were saying, 'You don't have forever' to make
progress," the official said. While the Cubans may think they are on a
schedule pegged to Castro's stated intention to depart from office in
2018, "they're really on a schedule for Obama's stepping down" in
January 2017.

Opponents of the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, first announced by Obama and
Castro on Dec. 17, have repeatedly noted that Cuba's detentions of
political dissidents have only increased since the announcement. Some
dissidents' attempts to see Pope Francis during his recent visit there
were blocked.

While most detentions do not result in arrest and dissidents are usually
released within hours, many have been roughed up by security forces with
the aim of disrupting any bid at political assembly or public expression.

Another way to demonstrate human rights progress, the official said,
would be to allow access to the International Committee of the Red
Cross, which has never been permitted to visit Cuban prisons.

Although the 1961 trade embargo and other subsequent legislation
restrict most direct U.S. exports to Cuba, prohibit credit transactions
and most interactions with the U.S. financial system, and ban U.S.
tourism, Obama has pushed through regulatory changes that broadened the
number of Americans who can travel there for specific purposes, allow
correspondent banking in Cuba, and permit U.S. businesses in certain
sectors to set up offices and hire workers in Cuba.

Bilateral dialogues are underway on civil aviation, telecommunications
and other potential areas of interaction.

In an assessment distributed Friday of what has happened since December,
the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council described the
U.S. measures as "chum" that Cuba is using to attract investment and
cooperation from other countries that may fear losing out to U.S.

On the plus side, the council noted that while Cuban agricultural
imports from the United States have decreased significantly this year,
health-care product purchases have increased. Both items are largely
exempt from the embargo. Direct telephone service between the United
States and Cuba has resumed, and Cuba has authorized a wireless-device
roaming agreement with Verizon. Limited postal service between the two
countries has resumed, and Cuba has allowed the lodging Web site Airbnb
to operate there.

But despite significant outreach from U.S. Internet providers and other
telecommunications companies, Cuba has not taken up any offers. No new
U.S. companies have been allowed to establish a presence in Cuba or to
hire Cuban workers.

"Visits to the Republic of Cuba by Members of Congress, Governors, trade
organization members, advocacy group supporters, company
representatives, and sole proprietors increased," the council said in
its assessment. "None have resulted in payments by the Republic of Cuba
for any of the newly-authorized exports from the United States."

In his speech Monday to the U.N. General Assembly, Castro briefly
mentioned the opening to the United States, repeating his demand that
the embargo be lifted and offering a litany of long-standing Cuban
foreign policy positions, including independence for Puerto Rico.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security
correspondent for the Washington Post.

Source: Obama presses Cuban president to respond to U.S. moves - The
Washington Post -

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