“It is up to Cubans decide their future”
YOANI SÁNCHEZ, Havana | Enero 24, 2015
In October of 2013 I had a conversation with Roberta Jacobson, via a
Google hangout (videodebate), on democracy, technology and the role of
women in activism. On that occasion, we interacted through a screen in
the company of internauts interested in our chat. Now, we talked with a
few inches between us, in a visit of the Assistant Secretary of State
for Western Hemisphere Affairs made to our independent daily, 14ymedio,
Proximity has allowed me to confirm what I had already felt in our
previous conversation, that this loquacious woman with an attentive gaze
has a profound knowledge of the Cuban reality. It is no wonder that she
has led the first round of conversations between Cuba and the United
States after the December 17th announcement about the reestablishment of
relations between both countries.
Several members of our editorial board along with some collaborators met
with Jacobson on the 14 th floor of the Yugoslav-style building where
our headquarters are located. Following is a transcript of a
conversation, where we tried to address a wide spectrum of topics.
Yoani Sánchez: Do we have reason to worry that pragmatism and the
politics of rapprochement prevail above all else, and that the issue of
human rights and civil liberties will be relegated to the background?
Jacobson: The goals of our policy are exactly the same as before. It
focuses on achieving a free country, where Cubans have the right to
decide their future. The most important thing is how to get to that
point, and we are aware that we have not been successful with the
previous strategy. So we’re trying to use a new policy of having
diplomatic relations because we – and especially President Obama and
Secretary Kerry – feel that it is important to have direct contact with
The most important thing is how we can empower the Cuban people in a
more effective way and offer you more telecommunications opportunities
to modernize your computer systems, to have access to information and to
be part of the connected “global village.” It is a complex process, that
is going to take time, but we are not going to set aside the issue of
human rights and of democracy because they are in the center of this new
policy as well.
Reinaldo Escobar: The Cuban government has so far only put on the
negotiating scale the release of 53 people – and I emphasis “release”
because they are not liberations, because the majority have only been
placed on parole. Can we expect new releases derived from these
Jacobson: That was part of the conversation where we showed an interest
in several people in Cuba. What was agreed in this process was the
exchange between intelligence agents, one who has traveled to the United
States and three who have returned to Cuba. The rest have been policies
of each side, gestures, of self interest. We are going to continue
implementing policies according to these interests, which we believe
support the Cuban people.
Reinaldo Escobar: We have learned that in Cuban prisons some of the
prisoners who are on the list of political prisoners but who haven’t yet
been released are promoting a hunger strike. Should they have any hope?
Jacobson: I want to say something more: In the discussions of recent
days, we have agreed to hold dialogs of many kinds. About cooperation,
about the environment, anti-narcotics, etcetera, including the issue of
human rights which was proposed by Cuba last year and which has now been
accepted by us.
We have different conceptions of this dialog and participating for us
will be the experts on those issues, but we have said several times that
we have never thought that after more than fifty years of this problem,
it would be resolved overnight. We know that there are more people in
the prisons and there are more elsewhere fighting for their rights.
Eliécer Ávila: Some media have shown that in these conversations the
formula is human rights versus economics. However, I understand politics
as the mechanism for people to live more freely and to live well, so I
see no conflict between one subject and another. Do you share that view?
Jacobson: We totally agree that they are, not only complementary, but
are essentially linked. We have talked, and we have heard the president,
Secretary of State Kerry and Vice President Biden talk, about reaching a
democratic, free, secure and prosperous hemisphere.
Those are things that are all linked. How can we talk of a hemisphere
that is prosperous, but does not have freedom? Or that has freedom but
has nothing to eat? Or where there is plenty to eat and freedom but you
can’t walk the streets because of insecurity and other dangers? These
are things that are linked, but some are the responsibility of the
governments to protect their citizens and to guarantee their fundamental
rights, and others have to be met by the citizens themselves, but in a
civilized society we have to talk about all these things.
Eliécer Ávila: Hence also the importance of access to telecommunications
Jacobson: Yes, citizens must have access to information not only on
issues of freedom and rights, they need access to information for their
economic life. It is very important and this is one way in which they
can have greater prosperity. So we are in total agreement that the
economy and human rights are closely linked. There is no contradiction
between them, none at all.
Dagoberto Valdés: From January 21-25, 1998 we had the historic visit of
Pope John Paul II to Cuba. For Cubans it was a visit of expectations and
yours now is also. What do you think is the role of the Catholic Church
as a mediator in the dialogue not only between the governments of Cuba
and the United States, but the important dialogue that must take place
between civil society and government of Cuba?
Jacobson: First I want to say that the role of Pope Francis and the
Vatican was instrumental in our process with the Cuban Government. We
know that the Vatican is always important in a process like this, but I
would add that this pope is special to this region… “We are all
Argentines at this moment…” So we appreciate the role of the Church.
In the future, I think the role of the Church in Rome as well as the
Church in Cuba will be very important. I had a conversation with the
Cardinal and there are several initiatives by the Cuban Church in
several areas, aimed at changes in economic, educational and other
areas. In the Church, as in the field and the media, it is for Cubans to
decide, not Americans.
Yoani Sánchez: Thank you for your visit to our editorial offices. We
deliver a printed version of 14ymedio with a weekly selection, which we
do to circumvent censorship. We hope that one day our newspaper will be
on newsstands nationwide.
Roberta Jacobson: Thank you, I have felt very comfortable here, like
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