Jacobson: Much riding on efforts to restore relations with Cuba
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD MWHITEFIELD@MIAMIHERALD.COM
01/24/2015 5:10 PM 01/24/2015 7:31 PM
Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. negotiator at normalization talks with
Cuba, said Saturday that she’s optimistic about the process but doesn’t
want to raise expectations too high.
“Building people’s hopes [too high] around a process, which I have
enormous confidence in, but which will take a long time, that is the
true normalization of relations and change, is something I think we need
to be careful of,” said Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs. “I think we need to be very optimistic but
very realistic at the same time.”
Jacobson sat down with the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald on Saturday
afternoon on her way back to Washington from Cuba where she led U.S.
delegates in talks aimed at restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba and
opening embassies in each country. Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee,
who led migration talks with Cuba on Wednesday, also visited the
newspapers’ main newsroom in Doral.
“As a first trip, this was incredibly important and very productive,”
Jacobson said. “It was getting things out on the table. We have a lot of
work to do in the future. We made a start but it was just a start.”
The talks on Thursday “revealed differences we have — all I think which
we knew about — but they’re abstract until you sit down and have the
conversations,” she said.
The U.S. delegation invited the Cuban side to Washington for the next
round of talks — a meeting that Jacobson said she expects to take place
“in the next couple of weeks.”
She said the reaction she got from everyday people during her trip
reminded her of the importance of the talks.
“For me, what affected me most during the talks and made me understand
what a big deal this was were the people in the United States, including
here in Miami, or in Cuba who wanted to tell me ‘good luck, we’re so
happy you’re doing this, we’re so grateful. our wishes and hopes go with
In Miami, a Cuban-American baggage handler told her it was an honor to
wrap her suitcase in plastic. In Havana, technicians and others stopped
her in the hallways and asked to take pictures with her because they
wanted to share the historic moment with their families.
“I felt very moved by that, but I also felt a huge responsibility,”
Jacobson said. “It means so much more to them than I realized and I felt
you don’t want to let them down.”
In Cuba, after the talks concluded, she held a breakfast for a group of
dissidents, met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, visited blogger Yoani
Sánchez at the newsroom of her independent news service 14ymedio, took
part in a reception for a large group of dissidents and activists Friday
night and visited Cuban cuentapropistas who are running their own small
“The contact I had with people was profound,” Jacobson said, even if she
didn’t see huge numbers of people because of her tight schedule.
Jacobson’s message to Cuban dissidents was that they shouldn’t feel
abandoned by the shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba and that the United
States wants to “continue to engage with them.”
During Thursday’s talks, the Cuban delegation invited the U.S. side to a
future dialogue on human rights. They want to talk about the U.S. human
rights record while the United States is concerned with lack of civil
liberties in Cuba and the treatment of political prisoners.
“I told them we were delighted to accept” their offer of a human rights
dialogue, said Jacobson. She acknowledged, however, that not only do the
Cubans have a different conception of human rights but also of “what
such a human rights dialogue might look like.
Human rights “is the area of the most profound disagreement,” she said.
Jacobson said she was encouraged that during Friday’s reception for
dissidents there were more diplomats from other embassies than who
usually attend such democratic, civil society events at the U.S.
Interests Section. That may indicate, she said, that there could be more
opportunities to work with U.S. counterparts and allies who weren’t
previously focused on civil society in Cuba.
During the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, both President
Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro will be in attendance.
Jacobson said it is also essential that there be Cuban participation in
the civil society and private sector portions of the Summit.
As part of his Dec. 17 announcement that Cuba and the United States
would be renewing diplomatic relations, Obama also said the United
States would allow the import and export of products to and from Cuba’s
nascent self-employed sector.
That news really unleashed a “sense of possibility” among Cuban
cuentapropistas, Jacobson said.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” she said, “that they all see themselves
as playing a critical role in expanding opportunities for Cubans, an
important role in bringing greater prosperity to a Cuba which is in very
serious economic trouble, and, yes, demonstrating a different way of
prosperity than a state-centered model.”
Source: Jacobson: Much riding on efforts to restore relations with Cuba
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