Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has published an article about its interpretation of the path to Cuba’s July 1, 2015, agreement with the United States to restore diplomatic relations. The author is one of its journalists, Sergio Alejandro Gómez.
The Charter was “the result of four years of intense work with the view to avoid new wars that would put humanity on the brink of annihilation.” Among its “principles and purposes are the defense of sovereign equality, the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State and non-intervention in matters of domestic jurisdiction.”
“Similarly, the Charter promotes friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples, cooperation in solving international problems and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all.”
The two Vienna Conventions “establish that the customary norms of international law continue to govern any questions not expressly addressed. . . . Customary international law is the set of “practices of international subjects that are generally accepted by them as Law,” As a result, says Gomez, “no practice outside the framework of the functions of diplomatic missions as established by the Vienna Convention[s] may be lawful unless it is covered by customary international Law, and this does not cover any illicit act, contrary to the norms of the receiving State.”
Cuba and the U.S.’ “compliance with the basic principles established for all nations, can help lay the foundation for progress in this long and complex road to the full normalization of relations [between the two countries].”
I agree. This is a concise statement of the international legal framework for peaceful and proper relations between countries. Amen!
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published an article regarding U.S. reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
It reported positive reactions from Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy, and Ben Cardin and from Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Republican Representative Bradley Byrne.
Others expressing support were Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and current candidate for president in 2016, and Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba.
Opposition, Granma reported, came from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Republican Representatives John Boehner and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.
The article also included a reference to a public opinion survey taken May 27-June 17, 2015, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that showed that “Americans favor lifting the trade embargo on Cuba and believe the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have mutual benefits.” More specifically, the survey demonstrated the following:
“Two in three Americans (67 percent) support the United States ending the trade embargo with Cuba.”
“Support for ending the embargo is bipartisan, with majorities of Democrats (79 percent), Republicans (59 percent) and Independents (63 percent) all in favor of lifting the ban on U.S. trade with Cuba.”
“A majority of Americans are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will have benefits for both countries. Majorities of Americans say the changes will help the Cuban economy (70 percent), help U.S. businesses (62 percent), improve living standards in Cuba (60 percent), improve the image of the United States in the world (57 percent), improve human rights in Cuba (54 percent) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (53 percent).”
“Majorities of all partisan groups are very or somewhat confident that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will help the Cuban economy (78 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents).”
“Otherwise, Democrats and Independents are more confident than Republicans in the benefits. Majorities of both Democrats and Independents are confident that the changes will help U.S. businesses (75 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents) and improve Cuban standards of living (71 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Independents), while Republicans are divided (50 percent each). Democrats are also more confident than Republicans that the proposed changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will improve the image of the United States in the world (74 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of Independents), improve human rights in Cuba (68 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of Republicans, 55 percent of Independents) and improve political freedoms in Cuba (65 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents).”
On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss Cuba’s announcement and reactions. A prior post did the same for the U.S. announcement and reactions.
The Cuban government’s announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations stated the following:
“The President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20, 2015.”
“By formalizing this step, Cuba and the United States ratified the intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.”
“The Government of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States in full exercise of its sovereignty, invariably committed to the ideals of independence and social justice, and in solidarity with the just causes of the world, and reaffirming each of the principles for which our people have shed their blood and ran all risks, led by the historic leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.”
“With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, the first phase concludes of what will be a long and complex process towards the normalization of bilateral ties, as part of which a set of issues will have to be resolved arising from past policies, still in force, which affect the Cuban people and nation.”
“There can be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade that continues to be rigorously applied, causing damages and scarcities for the Cuban people, is maintained. It is the main obstacle to the development of our economy, constitutes a violation of International Law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”
“To achieve normalization it will also be indispensable that the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base is returned, that radio and television transmissions to Cuba that are in violation of international norms and harmful to our sovereignty cease, that programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization are eliminated, and that the Cuban people are compensated for the human and economic damages caused by the policies of the United States.”
“In recalling the outstanding issues to be resolved between the two countries, the Cuban Government recognizes the decisions adopted thus far by President Obama, to exclude Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism, to urge the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade and to begin to take steps to modify the application of aspects of this policy in exercise of his executive powers.”
“As part of the process towards the normalization of relations, in turn, the foundations of ties that have not existed between our countries in all their history will need to be constructed, in particular, since the military intervention of the United States 117 years ago, in the independence war that Cuba fought for nearly three decades against Spanish colonialism.”
“These relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law.”
“The Government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to maintain a respectful dialogue with the Government of the United States and develop relations of civilized coexistence, based on respect for the differences between the two governments and cooperation on issues of mutual benefit.”
“Cuba will continue immersed in the process of updating its economic and social model, to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism, advance the development of the country and consolidate the achievements of the Revolution.”
That same day (July 1) Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, the Head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, delivered to Interim Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the U.S. State Department a letter from Raúl Castro to President Obama, confirming that “the Republic of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States of America and open permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries, on July 20, 2015.” That letter went on to say the following:
“Cuba makes this decision, motivated by the mutual intention to develop relations of respect and cooperation between both peoples and governments.”
“Cuba likewise draws inspiration from the principles and objectives established in the United Nations Charter and international law, namely, sovereign equality; the settlement of disputes by peaceful means; abstention from acts or threat of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any States, non-intervention in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, the promotion of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and that of the people’s right to self-determination, and cooperation in solving international problems and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
“The above stated principles are in accordance with the spirit and norms established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, to which both the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America are parties, and will govern diplomatic and consular relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America.”
Cuba also confirmed that on July 1 Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, had delivered to the Cuban Foreign Ministry a July 1 letter from President Obama to President Castro that was quoted in the prior post about the U.S. announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations.
According to a U.S. reporter for the New York Times, Cubans in the streets of Havana welcomed the news about the resumption of diplomatic relations.
Roberto, a parking attendant who minds cars near the U.S. Interests Section on the Malecon, said, ““This will benefit the country. Maybe, I don’t know, it will eventually benefit me.”
Regina Coyula, a blogger who for several years worked for Cuban state security, commented, “People realize that the Americans aren’t going to solve their problems, and nor is the government” of Cuba. The reaction to the December 17th announcement of rapprochement was “like a firework display. Everyone watched them. Everyone thought they were beautiful. And then they went back to their lives.”
Coyula added that with American money being spent in private restaurants and homes and on car services, those Cubans who are doing well will do even better. “The difference between those Cubas is only going to grow.”
“We’ve been waiting all our lives for this, and it’s very welcome,” said Carmen Álvarez, 76, who was walking with friends near the Interests Section. “We’re waiting with our arms and our minds wide open.”
Yosvany Coca Montes de Oca, 38, who began listing his one-bedroom apartment in Havana with Airbnb, the online house-sharing service, in April, said, “Things are going really well.” He used to get four or five Americans staying at his house every month. For the past two months, he has had more than 15 and has been showered with reservations. But Mr. Coca acknowledged that he was part of a privileged economic circle that was feeling the immediate benefit of new American interest in Cuba. Many Cubans, he said, felt little change. “For ordinary people, it doesn’t have a direct impact. People are mainly concerned with getting by day to day.”
More generally, the U.S. reporter concluded,“The euphoria that prompted Cubans to toot their horns and wave flags [on December 17th] . . . has given way to a tempered hope that an influx of Americans, and the eventual end of the trade embargo, will help pry open the economy and the political system.”
Similar positive comments from people on the street in Havana were captured by Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party.
Cuba’s Granma newspaper reported positive reactions to the restoration of diplomatic relations from China, Brazil, the European Union and the United Nations.
The Cuban announcement reiterated some of the issues that Cuba has raised before and after the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and that have been addressed in prior posts to this blog.
Foremost for Cuba is ending the U.S. embargo or blockade of Cuba. President Obama agrees that this should happen and again yesterday called on Congress to adopt legislation doing just that. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Jerry Moran and Angus King have introduced bills to that end, and in the House Charles Rangel, Bobby Rush and Jose Serano have authored similar bills. Now the relevant congressional committees need to hold hearings and report the bills to the floors of the respective chambers for voting them up or down.
Related to ending the embargo or blockage is Cuba’s repeated allegation that it is illegal under international law and has damaged Cuba, allegedly $1.1 trillion as of last October. It is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with these assertions and pay Cuba that sum of money. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim, along with others by Cuba and the U.S., be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in the Netherlands.
The other significant issue for Cuba is ending the alleged U.S. illegal occupation of Guantanamo Bay and returning that territory to Cuba. Again it is exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. will agree with that allegation and demand. Remember that the Cuban government in 1906 leased that territory to the U.S. for use as a “coaling station” or “naval station” and that there are many problems with Cuba’s assertion that it has the right to terminate the lease. Therefore, this blogger has suggested that this Cuban claim and others relating to Guantanamo, including unpaid rent for the last 50-plus years, also be submitted for resolution to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Cuba’s complaint about U.S. radio and television transmissions to Cuba (Radio and TV Marti), in this blogger’s opinion, is secondary. Again I see no U.S. acceptance of this complaint, and thus it too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
The other secondary Cuban complaint concerns the U.S. “programs aimed at promoting subversion and internal destabilization.” This refers to the covert, secret or “discreet” programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), such as its social media program, the HIV workshop program and the hip-hop artist campaign. These programs, in this blogger’s opinion, are a stupid waste of U.S. taxpayers’ funds and should be terminated by the U.S. Any U.S. programs to promote democracy in Cuba should be joint ventures with the Cuban government.
Now the more difficult work comes for the two countries’ diplomats to meet, discuss and negotiate to attempt to resolve or at least narrow these and many other issues. We wish them courage, persistence and humility in their work.
 A prior post concerned the October 2014 U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of a resolution condemning the embargo and Cuba’s allegation of $1.1 trillion of damages. Arbitration of Cuba’s alleged damages claim was suggested in another post.
On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss the U.S. announcement and reactions. A subsequent post will do the same for the Cuban announcement and reactions.
In the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the plans to reopen the embassies. Here is what he said:
“More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana. Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened. After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people. But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.”
“For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”
“Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship. As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies. Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal. And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
“This is not merely symbolic. With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.”
“On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba. And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.”
“However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement. That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba. And we will continue to do so going forward.”
“Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday. Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement. . . .
“Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm. There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses [that] want to invest in Cuba. American colleges and universities . . . want to partner with Cuba. Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.”
“Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward. I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same. I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba. We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work. After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?”
“Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.”
So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people. Listen to the American people. Listen to the words of a proud Cuban-American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, ‘I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.’”
“Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights. Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”
“A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”
“In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said: It is my hope and my conviction that it is ‘in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.’ Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come. And a better future lies ahead.”
The same day Secretary of State John Kerry from Vienna, Austria also discussed the plans, including his intent to travel to Havana for the opening of the embassy later this month. His statement included the following:
“Later this summer, as the President announced, I will travel to Cuba to personally take part in the formal reopening of our United States Embassy in Havana. This will mark the resumption of embassy operations after a period of 54 years. It will also be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Cuba since 1945. The reopening of our embassy . . . is an important step on the road to restoring fully normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Coming a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it recognizes the reality of the changed circumstances, and it will serve to meet a number of practical needs.”
“The United States and Cuba continue to have sharp differences over democracy, human rights, and related issues, but we also have identified areas for cooperation that include law enforcement, safe transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications, and migration. The resumption of full embassy activities will help us engage the Cuban Government more often and at a higher level, and it will also allow our diplomats to interact more frequently, and frankly more broadly and effectively, with the Cuban people. In addition, we will better be able to assist Americans who travel to the island nation in order to visit family members or for other purposes.”
In addition, the State Department conducted a special briefing by a senior official on this historic development. This individual said, “We’re confident that our embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments. We will be able to meet and exchange opinions with a variety of voices and views both within the government and outside. We’ll be able to engage a broad range of Cuban civil society and citizens.” The conditions for “access to diplomatic facilities, travel of diplomats, and the level of staffing . . . are acceptable for carrying out the core diplomatic functions necessary for implementing the President’s new policy direction on Cuba.” There were not any agreed “constrains or restrictions” on the exact types of programs or facilities that each of our embassies conducts.
According to the State Department spokesperson, there will be future discussions or negotiations with Cuba over human rights, telecommunications, health issues, fugitives, law enforcement, U.S. claims for property expropriation, Cuban claims for damages under the embargo and U.S. broadcasts to the island. Until there is a nomination and confirmation of an ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis will be the charge d’affaires and will lead the embassy.
Also earlier the same day Cuba’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the head of the US Interests Section in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, had delivered to the Acting Foreign Minister, Marcelino Medina, a letter from President Obama to Army General Raul Castro confirming “the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in the respective countries” on or after July 20. Here is the text of that letter:
“I am pleased to confirm, after high-level talks between our two governments, and in accordance with international law and practice, that the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba decided to restore diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries 20 July 2015. This is an important step forward in the normalization process, which started last December, with regard to relations between our two countries and peoples.”
“In making this decision, the United States are encouraged by the mutual intention to enter into friendly and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments, consistent with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular those relating to equality sovereign states, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of States, respect for the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-interference in internal affairs States as well as promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
“The United States and Cuba are parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed in Vienna on April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed in Vienna on April 24, 1963. I am pleased to confirm the understanding the United States that the above conventions apply to diplomatic and consular relations between our two countries.”
Although the U.S. can easily change the plaque on its building in Havana to one proclaiming that it is the Embassy of the United States of America, the State Department has said it needs $6.6 million to retrofit the building to make it suitable as an embassy. This may require a supplemental appropriation by Congress.
The U.S. will need an Ambassador to Cuba, and such an appointment needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In the meantime, as just noted, the U.S. has a capable career diplomat running the interests section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will be in charge.
Reactions to the Announcement
The announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations drew widespread praise. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated, “It’s long past time for U.S. policy toward Cuba to be associated with something other than five decades of failure. It is difficult to overstate the importance of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, in furthering our own national interests, benefiting our relations in the region, and encouraging a positive future for the Cuban people. I am confident that this move will lead to increased travel and contact between U.S. citizens and everyday Cubans, to the benefit of both.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), a co-sponsor of a bill to expand U.S. travel to Cuba and the author of a bill to lift the trade embargo, said, “This is the first step that must happen in order to lift the embargo.” Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Benjamin Cardin (MD) issued similar positive statements.
Engage Cuba, a bipartisan public policy organization dedicated to coalescing and mobilizing American businesses, non-profit groups and concerned citizens for the purpose of supporting the ongoing U.S.‐Cuba normalization process and enacting legislation to reform U.S. travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, issued a statement of support. It said, “We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors. Opening embassies in Washington and Havana is an important step toward the day when Americans can make their own decisions on where they travel, and our businesses can compete with the rest of the world. We are making history by making it clear that America’s engagement isn’t a concession, it is a show of strength and the best way to promote our values and create opportunities for both Americans and the Cuban people.”
Moreover, said Engage Cuba, “A vast majority of the American people – and 97% of the Cuban people – support re-establishing diplomatic relations. Today is a great day for the American and Cuban people who seek a brighter future for their two countries. After 54 years of a failed Cold war policy, better days finally lie ahead.”
A similar supportive statement came from the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which is “devoted to changing U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance” and which is a member of Engage Cuba. CDA stated, “”This is a moment we have been working toward for many years. The restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries is a major achievement that will help to heal decades of mistrust and will open opportunities for the U.S. and Cuba to collaborate on issues of mutual interest like immigration, environmental conservation, and regional trade. We applaud the tireless work of Cuban and U.S. diplomats, policymakers, academics, and activists who have helped make this possible. We are ready to work with all our allies to defend these positive steps initiated by President Obama and to move forward with removing the embargo once and for all.”
The day before this announcement, President Obama held a joint press conference at the White House with the visiting President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. In his opening remarks, Obama said, “As President, I’ve pursued a new era of engagement with Latin America where our countries work together as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. As we saw at the recent Summit of the Americas, the United States is more deeply engaged in the region than we’ve been in decades, and I believe the relationship between the United States and Latin America is as good as it’s ever been. We’re focused on the future — what we can accomplish together.”
After he had reviewed the many ways that Brazil and the U.S. cooperate, Obama commented, “And finally, we’re working together to uphold democracy and human rights across Latin America. I very much appreciate President Rousseff and Brazil’s strong support for our new opening toward Cuba. I updated Dilma on our progress, including our work to open embassies in Havana and Washington. And I believe that Brazil’s leadership in the region, as well as its own journey to democracy and a market economy can make it an important partner as we work to create more opportunities and prosperity for the Cuban people.”
In her response President Rousseff remarked about “the importance for Latin America of the recent decision made by President Obama and by President Raul Castro, even with the partnership with Pope Francis to the effect of opening up relations with — or resuming relations with Cuba, a very decisive milestone and point in time in U.S. relations with Latin America. It is really about putting an end to the lingering vestiges of the Cold War. And it ultimately elevates the level of the relations between the U.S. and the entire region. May I acknowledge the importance of that gesture to all of Latin America and also to world peace at large. It is an important example of relations to be followed.”
These thoughts were echoed in the subsequent Joint Communique by the two presidents: “President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.”
As anticipated, however, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, immediately issued a press release condemning the agreement. It said:
“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession. The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”
I am glad that my recent concern about the delay in announcing resumption of diplomatic relations has been alleviated. This is an important development in the reconciliation of our country with Cuba. Now all advocates for reconciliation need to notify their senators and representatives to oppose any of the measures put forward by Senator Rubio and others to try to block this important move.
 Senator Rubio in a letter to Secretary Kerry in June “vowed to oppose the confirmation of any ambassador until issues like human rights, fugitive terrorists and billions of dollars of outstanding claims were resolved.” The Senator said it is “important that pro-democracy activities not be sacrificed in the name of ‘diplomacy’ just so that we can change the name of a building from ‘Interest Section’ to ‘Embassy,’ ” Similar negative press releases came from other Cuban-Americas in the Congress: Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.
On January 22 and 23, 2015, U.S. and Cuban diplomats met in Havana to discuss a multitude of issues relating to the restoration of normal diplomatic relations. No agreements were reached other than an understanding that additional talks were necessary and would be held albeit without dates or location being set.
The first topic focused on technical issues related to reestablishing diplomatic ties. Gustavo Machin, the Cuban foreign ministry’s deputy director for U.S. affairs, said, “We have spoken about the principles upon which our diplomatic relations should be re-established.” The participants were “very respectful and flexible,” and not all the outstanding issues would be resolved in the first meeting.
At the conclusion of the first day’s meetings, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson agreed that the participants had a “very productive and positive dialogue.” She added, “We discussed the real and concrete steps required to restore diplomatic relations and the terms for opening of embassies in our respective countries, as well as expectations about how the US Embassy in Havana would work.” She also agreed with Cuba’s assertion that the restoration of diplomatic relations would be in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations. (In the photo to the right note the Cuban and U.S. flags at the podium at the site of the talks.)
Officials for both countries, however, outlined issues standing in the way of a normal U.S.-Cuba relationship.
Ms. Jacobson spoke of the U.S.’s persistent concerns about Cuban human rights while Cuba’s representatives talked about their concern for U.S. human rights, especially recent police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City and the treatment of detainees at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba.
An unnecessary note of discord was introduced by a problem over the U.S. translation into Spanish of the Jacobson’s English-language post-session written statement. The statement (with the English word in question put in bold) said, “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression and assembly.” The U.S. translation of this statement used the Spanish verb “presionar,” which means to pressure. Josefina Vidal, the head of the Cuban delegation, however, said, “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.” Later the U.S. apologized for its erroneous translation.
Ms. Vidal cited as problems for restoration of diplomatic relations Cuba’s inclusion in the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the various financial restrictions imposed on the country as a result of the U.S. trade embargo. (Again note the two flags at the same podium in the photo to the right.)
Both of the countries’ leaders talked about the need for further discussions and negotiations to resolve these many issues. I expect the two sides to develop an agenda and plan for addressing these many issues, including dates and location for the next set of talks. In a subsequent post I will set forth my views, as an outsider, as to how these differences can be resolved.
December 17, 2014, was a historic day in the relations between the United States of America and Cuba. The day started with Cuba’s release of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, from a Cuban prison and his return to his home in the U.S. and of the similar release and return to the U.S. of an unnamed U.S. spy . Nearly simultaneously the U.S. released three Cuban spies from its prison..
President Obama’s Speech
At noon (EST) President Obama delivered a televised speech to the nation and the world about the U.S, and Cuba embarking on a new path of reconciliation. He opened with the bold proclamation,”Today the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba. After noting the prisoner exchanges, he said:
First. he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry “to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations” with an embassy in Havana. “Where we can advance shared interests, we will. . . . Where we disagree, we will raise those differences openly–as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.”
Second, the President had “instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism . . . to be guided by the facts and the law.”
Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.”
Fourth, the U.S. is “significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.” The U.S. is also facilitating “authorized transactions [with Cuba], . . including U.S. financial institutions opening accounts with their Cuban counterparts and increased U.S. exports as well as “increased telecommunications connections” with Cuba.
Fifth, the U.S. embargo against Cuba requires congressional action, and the President looks forward to “engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”
Sixth, the President also acknowledged that Cuba was releasing “a substantial number of prisoners” who had been jailed for political reasons, was increasing internet access to its citizens and its engagement with international institutions.
Nevertheless, the President acknowledged that there would not be “a transformation of Cuban society overnight.” He was convinced, however, “that through a policy of engagement we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the cuban people help themselves.”
Obama near the end of his speech said, “To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.” The U.S. “wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.”
Cuban President Raul Castro’s Speech
Nearly simultaneously Cuban President Raúl Castro made a televised speech to his country about the new path for Cuba and the U.S. After acknowledging the prisoner exchange and the release of some Cuban political dissidents from prison, he said the countries had “agreed to the restoration of diplomatic relations.” Unfortunately the U.S. embargo will not be ended immediately, but will be modified until Congress can enact a repeal.
The two countries will take mutual steps “to improve bilateral climate and move toward normalization of ties . . . based on the principles of international law and the [U.N.] Charter.” Cuba has also reaffirmed its willingness to discuss all issues of democracy, human rights and foreign policy. Cuba has urged the U.S. “to remove obstacles that prevent or restrict th e links between our peoples, families and citizens . . ., in particular those relating to travel, direct mail and telecommunications.”
“Progress in sustained exchanges show that it is possible to find solutions to many problems. . . . [W]e must learn the art of living, in a civilized manner, with our differences.”
These historic agreements raise many issues that will be discussed in subsequent posts.