Thursday, July 21, 2016

After a year of U.S.-Cuba relations - Budding friends or frenemies?

After a year of U.S.-Cuba relations: Budding friends or frenemies?

Wednesday marked the first anniversary of renewed U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties
Both Cuba and the United States say advances have been made
But normalization is expected to be a long and complex process
Obama, Castro attend historic baseball game together in Havana 1:06

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban negotiator on many of the important meetings
in the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, says Cuba will never lower its guard
when it comes to the United States but the two countries' new
relationship offers opportunities to advance on problems that have long
separated them.

Vidal's remarks were published in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper,
on Wednesday — the first anniversary of the resumption of U.S.-Cuba
relations after a break that stretched for 54 years.

Meanwhile in Washington, a senior State Department official offered U.S.
commentary on the year since respective embassies reopened and
diplomatic ties were revived: "In spite of our differences with the
Cuban government, our engagement policy is working. We've made
significant progress since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations a
year ago."

Though there have been many milestones — such as President Barack
Obama's March trip to the island — daunting issues remain since July 20,
2015 when diplomatic relations resumed. They include the embargo, claims
for confiscated property of U.S. citizens and corporations, differences
over human rights, migration, return of fugitives from justice, and
Cuban demands for reparations for damages from the embargo and the
return of the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay.

Vidal, who heads the U.S. Department at Cuba's Foreign Ministry and is a
long-time observer of all things American, said the past year has
brought important political and diplomatic advances in the relationship
with the United States.

She noted that since the rapprochement began, the United States and Cuba
have signed 10 agreements in areas of mutual interest plus the agreement
to reestablish diplomatic ties. The two countries are in the process of
negotiating others.

In contrast, she said, between the Triumph of the Revolution on Jan. 1,
1959 and Dec. 17, 2014 when Havana and Washington made the surprise
announcement that they would work toward normalizing relations, only
seven bilateral agreements were signed.

"There's still much more to be done," said Vidal, adding that there is a
lot more Obama also could do through executive authority to chip away at
the embargo.

The State Department official said the administration will continue to
look at whether any further actions might be taken but "as President
Obama stated in his visit to Havana in March we're close to approaching
the end of what can be done based on executive authority."

Officials from both the United States and Cuba have indicated that the
series of meetings they've had on various topics, including migration
and counter-narcotics cooperation, have helped them get to know each
other better.

But the Cubans are still wary.

The long-standing U.S. objective has been to dominate Cuba and policies
from the "past era of hostility and confrontation still remain," Vidal
said. "We are not naive. We know what the strategic objective of the
U.S. is and we will not lower our guard. We are always alert."

Josefina Vidal, Cuban negotiator

Some analysts wonder if the two countries will end up friends or frenemies.

Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow of the Inter-American
Dialogue, said some observers have asked if what is going on between the
two countries is a reconciliation or a friendly divorce. He called it an
"imperfect analogy" but said it is possible that with the lower
hostilities and each side no longer such an irritant to each other, they
will drift off to do their own things.

The diplomats in Washington and Havana did agree on one point in their
separate commentaries: normalization isn't and won't be easy.

"The process toward normalization of relations with the United States
will be long and complex," Vidal said. "But we're going to persist as we
always have."

"Normalization is a long-term process," said the senior State Department
official. "Human rights, property claims, and the return of fugitives
from U.S. justice are complex and thorny issues but we're making slow
and steady progress."

Source: U.S.-Cuba first year of diplomatic ties: Frenemies or warming to
a friendship? | In Cuba Today -

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