Cuba-US: From Words to Tentative Actions

On Feb. 27, the second round of negotiations concerning the normalization of political and economic relations between Cuba and the United States begins in Washington. As is widely known, relations between the two countries were broken off after the Cuban Revolution. Signs of a warming were outlined on Dec. 17 of last year. On this memorable day, Raul Castro and Barack Obama respectively made announcements on television. They spoke of plans to end confrontation and establish diplomatic ties. After some time, the two sides began to make hesitant steps toward each other.

The first high-level step in this process was a meeting of delegations from the two countries in Havana on Jan. 21-22. The delegations were headed by two women. The Americans were led by Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, while the Cubans were headed by Josefina Vidal, general director of the U.S. division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the opinion of those involved, the negotiations went successfully, although it goes without saying that a large number of divisive questions came up, which would be impossible to resolve overnight. They agreed to continue the dialogue in Washington at the end of February.

This begs the reasonable question of what the two sides managed to accomplish in the interim period. First of all, it must be emphasized that the U.S. Congress has an influential lobby headed by Sen. Marco Rubio, who has Cuban roots. They are attempting to do whatever it takes to put the brakes on the unfolding process, arguing that the new policy will benefit the Castro brothers and serve to strengthen the authoritarian regime. For his part, the American president took one step back, announcing that he will not close the Guantanamo base and will not give jurisdiction of it to the island.

Despite this, there have undoubtedly been shifts in a better direction. Fairly recently, a congressional delegation headed by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was on the island. The legislators spent three days in the country, meeting with representatives of various social strata, including dissidents, and they also met Cardinal Jaime Ortega. They attended a reception hosted by the minister of foreign affairs, Bruno Rodriguez. The distinguished guests affirmed their commitment to normalizing relations and advocated the development of economic ties, particularly in agriculture, trade and tourism.

On Feb. 12, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution to end the trade embargo. Clearly, American business is awaiting the opportunity to invest in the island’s economy and keep up with Europeans, who occupy a comfortable niche in Cuba. The U.S. has seen a doubling in the remittances sent to Cuba. Telephone companies from the two countries concluded a cooperation agreement. Recently, a traditional cigar festival opened in Havana. Representatives from 43 countries took part in it, including some from the United States. Americans now, at long last, have the legal right to carry the world famous tobacco products home with them, up to a value of $100. Earlier, such an action would have earned them a significant monetary fine. For their turn, Cuban cigar producers hope to capture 20 to 25 percent of the U.S. market. Coca-Cola announced its hope to return to the island in the foreseeable future. Other examples abound. It goes without saying that unpublicized contacts between specialists are occurring without pause. In the stillness of offices, behind tightly drawn curtains, away from outside eyes, the two sides are working out the difficult questions that have accumulated over years of estrangement.

Remarkably, in advance of the upcoming meeting, information has appeared in Cuban newspapers about an electoral reform that is being prepared, which could be introduced in the near future. Although details of the forthcoming reforms have not been clarified, it should be seen as an unambiguous signal to American skeptics — as if to say, look at the political changes taking place in the country. According to leading experts, such as Professor Arturo Lopez-Levy, Cuba is on the brink of important changes, including a generational change in the country’s leadership. The aged Raul Castro’s seat is being prepared for a young successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who was born after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

And so, the second round of negotiations is opening. As before, the delegations will be headed by the two experienced ladies. Accompanying them will be qualified experts on concrete issues. It is assumed that details connected to the opening of embassies in both countries will be at the center of attention. In turn, Cuba is demanding to be excluded from the list of countries that support terrorist activities. This was mentioned by Gustavo Machin, a high-ranking official in the Cuban diplomatic establishment. He considers Cuba’s inclusion on the list to be inconsistent with the normalization of relations. Opponents of the idea of removing Cuba from the list have responded. Influential Sen. Robert Menendez sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James Comey, urging that Cuba’s current designation on the list be maintained. In turn, Ms. Vidal warned that sovereignty and internal order cannot be subject to negotiations. Difficult battles lie ahead. Nevertheless, the two sides hope that they will manage to address the contentious issues before the Summit of the Americas, which is planned for April 10-11 in Panama.

Undoubtedly, a new impulse will be given in Washington to the normalization of political relations.

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