Thursday, July 21, 2016

U.S. urges Cuba to do more to improve relationship

U.S. urges Cuba to do more to improve relationship
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY 6:53 p.m. EDT July 20, 2016

MIAMI — On the anniversary of renewed diplomatic relations between the
United States and Cuba, the U.S. government prodded the island's
communist leaders Wednesday to take greater steps toward economic and
political freedom.

A senior State Department official told reporters in a briefing that
there have been signs of progress over the past year, including
increased travel between the two countries and productive discussions
between government officials. But the official, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss
the new relationship, said the Cuban government needs to allow more
trade and connections between citizens and businesses of both countries.

For example, the Obama administration now allows U.S. businesses to
export goods to Cuba's growing class of private entrepreneurs, but the
Cuban government has not allowed those entrepreneurs to import the goods.

President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro first announced in
December 2014 that the longtime foes would end their 50-year freeze and
begin normalizing relations. After months of negotiations, the two sides
officially agreed a year ago Wednesday to resume formal diplomatic ties.

Since then, more Americans are visiting the long-isolated island,
businesses are making small inroads into the Cuban market, and both
countries are expanding cultural and educational exchanges. The Obama
administration allowed more trade and travel to empower Cuban citizens
to fight for democratic change.

But Cuba's leaders have been slow to reciprocate.

"The United States business community is disappointed with the pace of
engagement by the government of Cuba," said John Kavulich, president of
the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York. "There was an
expectation that the government of Cuba would appreciate the importance
of having a broad and deep export and service landscape well in place."

Cuba's lead negotiator with the United States, Josefina Vidal, defended
her government's progress, saying Cuba remains severely limited by a
continued U.S. economic embargo, which only the U.S. Congress can lift.
So far, it has no intention of doing so.

"It's up to the United States to disassemble the hostile, unilateral
politics that created a confrontational character on the links between
the two countries," Vidal said in an interview published Wednesday in
Granma, Cuba's state-run newspaper. "Cuba doesn't have similar policies
toward the United States."

There are several notable examples of how the relationship has changed:

Dialogue. Last summer, both countries reopened embassies in Washington
and Havana. That kicked off a series of high-level meetings on commerce,
law enforcement, health care and the environment. According to Kavulich,
more than 80 representatives of the Cuban government have visited
Washington, and more than 160 U.S. officials have visited Cuba since
Obama and Castro started the rapprochement.

Travel. The 704-passenger Adonia, operated by Fathom Travel and owned by
Miami-based Carnival Corp., became the first U.S. cruise ship to pull
into Havana's harbor in decades when it made a maiden voyage in May.
U.S. airlines this summer are starting up to 110 regularly scheduled
flights a day to Cuba. And Starwood Hotels and Resorts signed an
agreement to operate three Havana hotels. The first hotel — the Four
Points Havana — is already open.

Tourism. An estimated 700,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2015, the State
Department official said.

Trade. Swiss-based Nespresso will begin selling Cuban coffee in U.S.
stores later this year. DISH, the Colorado-based TV provider, launched a
channel in June to broadcast shows and movies produced in Cuba. And
Cuban musicians, professors, artists, researchers — and even dissidents
— are traveling more easily to the U.S.

Many hurdles remain. Cuba continues to arrest hundreds of political
dissidents each month. Cuba's economy is faltering in ways not seen in
decades, in part because its main benefactor, oil-rich Venezuela, is
suffering a major economic crisis and massive food shortages. Cuban
officials have warned of power outages and other shortages in the months
to come.

Despite the concerns, the Obama administration said its decision to
re-establish relations was the right one. The State Department official
said engaging with Cuba remains a far better option than the previous
decades of isolation.

Source: U.S. urges Cuba to do more to improve relationship -

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