Cuba to US: We’re sticking with one-party state
As US negotiators begin talks in Havana, Cuban officials insist they
will not reform the communist one-party system or centrally planned economy
By Philip Sherwell, New York5:57PM GMT 21 Jan 2015
The highest-level US delegation to visit Havana in decades has opened
two days of historic talks with Cuban officials to end a half century of
Cold War hostility and restore diplomatic relations.
The American mission is headed by Roberta Jacobson, the assistant
secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and the most senior US
diplomat to visit the island for 38 years.
The US team arrived the morning after President Barack Obama heralded “a
new hope for the future of Cuba” in his State of the Union address, and
said that America’s past policy of isolating the communist state has failed.
But a senior Cuban diplomat signalled that the US needed to abandon
hopes of reforming the one-party regime and its centrally planned
economy and cautioned that re-establishing diplomatic ties would not
lead to a full relationship between the two countries.
That message, delivered as the US mission was in the air en route to
Havana, appeared intended to lower expectations of reform there in the
wake of December’s declaration of détente by Mr Obama and Raul Castro,
the Cuban leader.
US officials say they will press human rights concerns on the trip, with
Ms Jacobson scheduled to meet Cuban dissidents and religious leaders.
But in another dig, Cuban officials countered that they were happy to
discuss human rights and would raise their own “concerns” over US police
“brutality” in Ferguson and New York, where unarmed black men were
killed by white officers last year.
If the talks go well, America has been hoping to re-open its embassy
building on Havana’s Malecon seafront promenade – currently home to its
“interest section” – before the Summit of Americas in April in Panama,
where Mr Obama and Mr Castro are expected to meet.
Cuban officials sounded less optimistic, saying that re-opening of
embassies before Havana was removed from the US state terrorism sponsor
list would be “contradictory”. But Cuba also needs to reach a deal as
its moribund economy struggles to survive.
Despite the diplomatic jockeying, the talks mark a momentous turning
point in one of the last legacies of the Cold War. Dispatching an
official of Ms Jacobson’s seniority is an indication of Mr Obama’s
commitment to follow through on December’s announcement.
Colleagues have praised her mix of sunny disposition and steely
determination – a combination that seems certain to be needed in the
The meetings on Wednesday focused on previously planned “migration”
talks covering existing travel links between the two countries. But the
more challenging business begins on Thursday with the start of
negotiations about re-opening embassies in the respective capitals.
Immediate US objectives for the talks include the lifting of
restrictions on American diplomats’ staffing numbers and travel inside
Cuba and unfettered access for Cubans to their mission. The Cuban
response will help determine the pace of change.
Other potential stumbling blocks down the line include the billions of
dollars in economic claims against Cuba’s government by exiles and
nationalised US businesses and the status of American criminal fugitives
who are now living freely in Cuba.
Some changes have already unfolded in the last month. The Cubans last
week released 53 political prisoners. Three days later, the Obama
administration significantly eased travel and trade rules with Cuba,
including allowing American visitors to bring back $100 worth of the
island’s famed cigars and rum.
The talks began with a stark visual reminder of Cuba’s history as a
proxy for Cold War rivalries. Sitting in Havana harbour was a Russian
spy ship that arrived on Tuesday for a port call that was a thinly
veiled display of Moscow’s influence on its old communist ally.
And Ms Jacobson will not be negotiating an end to the trade embargo
imposed in 1960 – the year that she was born – as only Congress can lift
The Republicans who control both chambers seem certain to ignore Mr
Obama’s call on Tuesday night to end the sanctions put in place shortly
after Fidel Castro seized power in the Cuban revolution. There is, for
now at least, little prospect that Starbucks, McDonald’s or other
American businesses will be setting up shop in Havana any time soon.
Source: Cuba to US: We’re sticking with one-party state – Telegraph –