U.S. presses Cuba on human rights in talks on restoring ties
BY DANIEL TROTTA AND LESLEY WROUGHTON
HAVANA Thu Jan 22, 2015 9:23pm EST
(Reuters) – The United States said it pressed Cuba to improve human
rights during historic, high-level talks on Thursday, annoying the
Cubans after both sides reported making progress toward restoring
The talks were the first since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban
President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would work to restore
diplomatic ties, which Washington severed in 1961 two years after Raul’s
brother Fidel took power and began implementing communist rule.
“As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for
improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression and
assembly,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the head
of the delegation, said in a written statement.
Obama needs the Republican-controlled Congress to completely normalize
relations with Cuba, and Republicans such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio
have opposed engagement as long as Cuba maintains a one-party state,
represses dissidents and controls the media.
The U.S. statement was issued near the end of two days of talks on a
host of issues including the restoration of diplomatic ties.
Cuba, always sensitive to U.S. efforts to infringe on its sovereignty or
meddle in its internal affairs, took the word “pressed” as less than
diplomatic. The Spanish version of the U.S. statement used language that
could be interpreted as “pressured.”
“I can confirm that the word ‘pressure’ was not used. I must say it’s
not a word that is used in these types of conversations,” Josefina
Vidal, the head of the Cuban delegation, told reporters.
Turning the table on the Americans, Cuba earlier had expressed concern
over human rights in the United States, a reference to recent police
killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
With each side working under instructions from their respective
presidents, both sides stressed that the conversations were respectful
Illustrating the benefits to the Cuban economy of improved relations,
Moody’s credit rating agency said the easing of U.S. restrictions was
“credit positive” for Cuba.
Jacobson said re-establishing diplomatic ties was “not overly cumbersome.”
But Jacobson also cautioned that any major breakthrough would depend on
overcoming more than 50 years of mistrust between countries that
remained adversaries for decades after events such as the Bay of Pigs
invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Jacobson’s visit marks the first
time in 38 years that a U.S. official of her rank has visited Cuba.
“We have … to overcome more than 50 years of a relationship that was
not based on confidence or trust, so there are things we have to discuss
before we can establish that relationship and so there will be future
conversations,” Jacobson said.
Vidal declined to say if Cuba trusted the United States more after 18
months of secret talks that led to this first encounter, in which the
two negotiating teams shared several meals in between hours of
“I have confidence in a better future for our countries,” Vidal said.
“We are neighbors. We have profound differences … but we have seen in
the world that countries with profound differences can coexist
peacefully and in a civilized way,” she said.
Chief among the differences is the comprehensive U.S. trade embargo
against Cuba. Obama has loosened the embargo and asked Congress to start
Cuba also told the Americans it wants to be removed from the U.S. list
of state sponsors of terrorism.
In immigration talks on Wednesday, Cuba deplored the U.S. granting safe
haven to Cubans with special protections denied to other nationalities,
while the Americans vowed to stand by the so-called Cuban Adjustment Act.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Valdés;
Editing by Peter Galloway, Alan Crosby, Andre Grenon and Lisa Shumaker)
Source: U.S. presses Cuba on human rights in talks on restoring ties |