Joint Press Conference of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez  

On the morning of July 20, 2015, Cuba officially opened its Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the United States did likewise in Havana although the ceremonial opening of the latter will be on August 14 when Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Havana to preside that event. A prior post discussed the ceremonial opening of the Cuban Embassy. This post covers that afternoon’s joint press conference at the U.S. Department of State by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.[1] Subsequent posts will review comments about U.S.-Cuba relations offered by the White House Press Secretary at a July 20 press conference and the reactions to these events.

Bruno Rodriguez & John Kerry @ U.S. State Department
Bruno Rodriguez & John Kerry @ U.S. State Department

Secretary Kerry’s Opening Statement

The conference was opened by Kerry, saying it was “an historic day; a day for removing barriers.” This day was welcomed by the U.S. as a “new beginning in its relationship with the people and the Government of Cuba. We are determined to live as good neighbors on the basis of mutual respect, and we want all of our citizens – in the U.S. and in Cuba – to look into the future with hope. Therefore we celebrate this day . . . because today we begin to repair what was damaged and to open what has been closed for many years.”

His prior discussion with Minister Rodriguez, Kerry said, “touched on a wide range of issues of mutual concern including cooperation on law enforcement, counter-narcotics, telecommunications, the internet, environmental issues, human rights, including trafficking in persons. And of course, we also discussed the opening of our embassies.”

This milestone, however, Kerry added, “does not signify an end to differences that still separate our governments, but it does reflect the reality that the Cold War ended long ago, and that the interests of both countries are better served by engagement than by estrangement, and that we have begun a process of full normalization that is sure to take time but will also benefit people in both Cuba and the United States.” Indeed, “the process of fully normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba will go on. It may be long and complex. But along the way, we are sure to encounter a bump here and there and moments even of frustration. Patience will be required. But that is all the more reason to get started now on this journey, this long overdue journey.”

Foreign Minister Rodriguez’s Opening Statement

Rodriguez opened in English by saying he had “a constructive and respectful meeting with [the] Secretary . . . [and] an exchange on the issues discussed by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama during their historical encounter at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the current status of the bilateral relations, and the progress achieved since the announcements of December 17th, 2014, including Cuba’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the expansion of official exchanges on issues of common interest, and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies.”

The Cuban people and government recognize “President Obama for his determination to work for the lifting of the blockade, for urging Congress to eliminate it, and for his willingness to adopt executive measures that modify the implementation of some aspects of this policy. Their scope is still limited, but these are steps taken in the right direction.”

Cuba also “emphasized that, in the meantime, the President of the [U.S.] can continue using his executive powers to make a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade, not to pursue changes in Cuba, something that falls under our exclusive sovereignty, but to attend to the interests of U.S. citizens.”

Rodriguez also “emphasized that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations.”

“We both ratified our interest in normalizing bilateral relations, knowing that this will be a long and complex process, which will require the willingness of both countries. There are profound differences between Cuba and the [U.S.] with regard to our views about the exercise of human rights by all persons all over the world, and also issues related to international law, which will inevitably persist. But we strongly believe that we can both cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, based on the respect for these differences and the development of a constructive dialogue oriented to the wellbeing of our countries and peoples, and this continent, and the entire world.”

He also “expressed to the Secretary of State that he will be welcome in Cuba on the occasion of the ceremony to reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana [on August 14].”

Rodriguez then essentially repeated these comments in his native Spanish language. He also “reiterated our invitation to all U.S. citizens to exercise their right to travel to Cuba, as they do to the rest of the world, and to the companies of that country to take advantage on an equal footing of the opportunities offered by Cuba.”

Question and Answer Session

The press then asked the following questions, and the two officials provided these answers.

  1. QUESTION: The first question had the following three parts: (a) What was the U.S. position with respect to Rodriguez’ statement that only the lifting of the trade embargo and the return of Guantanamo Bay would lend meaning to today’s historic events and that Cuba did not want any U.S. interference in its domestic policies? (b) What changes in Cuban human rights would the U.S. be pursing? (c) What changes would Cuba be willing to make at the request of the U.S. before the lifting of the embargo and return of Guantanamo?

SECRETARY KERRY: “[T[here are things that Cuba would like to see happen; there are things the United States would like to see happen.” But that does not mean that these things will happen.

“With respect to the embargo, President Obama . . . has called on Congress to lift the embargo.” The Administration hopes “that the embargo at the appropriate time will in fact be lifted and that a great deal more foundation can be built for this relationship.”

At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing [Guantanamo Bay] lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station, but we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it. I can’t tell you what the future will bring but for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.”

The U.S., on the other hand, has “expressed and we will always express – because it’s part of the United States foreign policy; it’s part of our DNA as a country – and that is our view of human rights and our thoughts about it. We have shared good thoughts on that. We’ve had good exchanges. And as you know, part of this arrangement that took place involved an exchange of people as well as the release of some people. And our hope is that as time goes on, we’ll continue to develop that.”

What we did talk about today was how to further the relationship most effectively, and perhaps through the creation of a bilateral committee that might work together to continue to put focus on these issues.”

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: “In recent times, the U.S. Government has recognized that the blockade against Cuba is a wrong policy, causing isolation and bringing about humanitarian damages and privations or deprivations to our people, and has committed to engage Congress in a debate with the purpose of lifting the blockade. . . . [T]he President of the U.S. [also] has adopted some executive measures which are still limited in scope but which are oriented in the right direction.”

In exchanges with Secretary Kerry we “have not spoken about conditions but rather about the need to move on through the dialogue on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect and create a civilized behavior, despite the profound differences that exist between both governments, to better attend to the interests of our respective peoples.”

“[I]t is very important that today a [Cuban] embassy was reopened in Washington and that diplomatic instruments could be created ensuring full mutual recognition, which is a practical contribution to the development of bilateral dialogue. . . . [For] Cuba, the normalization of relations presupposes the solution of a series of pending problems, [including] “the ceasing of the blockade against Cuba, the return of the territory of Guantanamo, and the full respect for the sovereignty of our country.” We also confirmed “that there are conditions . . . [for expanding] the dialogue . . . with the purpose of expanding mutually beneficial cooperation between our . . . countries and, of course, taking into account the fact that the situation between the U.S. and Cuba is asymmetric because our . . . country has not implemented any discriminatory policy against American citizens or enterprises. Cuba does not implement any unilateral coercive economic measure against the U.S. Cuba does not occupy any piece of U.S. territory. Precisely through the dialogue, we are supposed to create the proper conditions to move on towards the normalization of relations.”

  1. QUESTION: This was a three-part question: (a) What are the advantages [for Cuba’s having an embassy in the U.S,] taking into consideration that the blockade is still in place? (b) What are the advantages for the U.S.’ having an embassy in Havana? (c) Will the U.S. in the future respect the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations?

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: “The fact that diplomatic relations have been re-established and that embassies have been reopened in both capitals shows first and foremost the mutual willingness to move on towards the improvement of the relations between our both countries. Second, new instruments are [being] created to further deepen this dialogue. . . . Third, . . . the basis for the normal functioning of these diplomatic missions would be the purposes and principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter: the principles of international law and the regulations containing the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. Therefore, we have reached agreements in these areas, and I can say that Cuba would absolutely respect those provisions. Cuban diplomats will strictly abide by those rules, and we will create in Cuba every necessary condition for the normal functioning of the new U.S. Embassy in our country.”

SECRETARY KERRY: Part “of the negotiations leading up to the opening of the embassies was . . . coming to agreement with respect to all of the diplomatic functions. . . . [That led to an] “agreement which is in accord with the Vienna Conventions and meets both of our countries’ understandings of what is needed and what is appropriate at this moment in time. It could be subject to change later in the future, obviously, but for the moment we are satisfied and we are living within the structure of the Vienna Convention.”

  1. QUESTION: A three-part question: (a) In “your discussions today, did you establish any sort of road map for talks going forward? (b) If so, what are your priorities? (c) As a result, do you envision a political opening in Cuba on issues such as greater freedom of speech and assembly, and also the legalization of opposition parties?”

FOREIGN MINISER RODRIGUEZ: We will “welcome Secretary Kerry in the next few weeks in Havana to continue our talks, to establish the appropriate mechanisms to expand the dialogue in areas related to bilateral cooperation oriented to the common benefit, and to retake our talks about the substantial aspects of the bilateral relations I have mentioned before, which will determine this process towards the normalization of relations.”

The “political opening in Cuba happened in the year 1959. . . . We Cubans feel very happy with way in which we manage our internal affairs. We feel optimistic when it comes to the solution of our difficulties and we are very zealous of our sovereignty, so we will maintain in permanent consultations with our people to change everything that needs to be changed based on the sovereign and exclusive willingness of Cubans.”

  1. QUESTION: A four-part question: (a) Is “this new era of relations with Cuba [based on a] recognition that the U.S. policies of isolating countries in Latin America that differ from . . . [U.S.] political views don’t work?” (b) “Do the recent trips to Caracas of Mr. Thomas Shannon [of the U.S. State Department] . . . [constitute a] beginning of trying to rebuild the relationship with Venezuela?” (c) Is it possible [for Cuba] to have relations with the U.S. when the U.S. is giving every signal that it is not willing to lift the blockade or the embargo as it is called here and cannot withdraw from Guantanamo?” (d) Has the U.S. after failing to change Cuba from the outside “now implemented a creative way to try to change Cuba from the inside?”

FOREIGN MINISTER RODRIGUEZ: The “fact that diplomatic relations are being established and that we are reopening both embassies is a show of the mutual willingness to move on towards the normalization of bilateral relations.” [Last] December President Obama recognized that the U.S. policy against Cuba had been wrong, causing damages and hardships to the Cuban people, and causing isolation to the U.S.”

The “re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies are appreciated by my country as a signal of progress towards a civilized relationship, despite the differences, and it would lend some meaning only if the blockade is lifted, if we are able to solve the pending problems for more than one century, and if we are able create a new type of relationship between the U.S. and Cuba different from what has existed all along the history.”

Cuba feels “that [President Obama’s] recognition of the need to lift the blockade against Cuba, that during the talks that we have had, including this morning’s talks, we have perceived respect for Cuba’s independence to the full determination of our people, [that the two countries] have talked, on the basis of absolute equal sovereignty despite differences shows that the dialogue is fruitful and that the U.S. and Cuba, by a mandate of the American people and the Cuban people, are in the condition to move on towards a future of relations different from the one accumulated throughout our history, responding precisely to the best interests of our citizens.”

“There is an international order. International law is recognized as the civilized behavior to be adopted by states. There are universally accepted principles, and these have been the ones who have allowed us to reach this date and the ones that . . . will reorient our behavior in our relations in the future.”

SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to Cuba, “passions ran deep . . . to this day in the [U.S.]. There are many Cuban-Americans who have contributed in so many ways to life in our country, some of whom are still opposed to a change, some of whom believe it is time to change.”

“When I served in the [U.S.] Senate, there were many of us who believed over a period of time that our policy of isolating [Cuba] was simply not working; we were isolating ourselves in many ways. And we felt that after all those years it was time to try something else. President Obama is doing that now. And it is clear that we have chosen a new path, a different path. Already, people tell me who have visited Cuba that they feel a sense of excitement, a sense of possibility. And I am convinced that as we work through these issues we are going to find a better path forward that speaks to the needs of both peoples, both countries.”

With respect to Venezuela, Counselor of the State Department, Ambassador Tom Shannon has had several conversations with the Venezuelans. We had a very productive conversation prior to the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The [U.S.] has said many times we would like to have a normal relationship with Venezuela and have reached out in an effort to try to change the dialogue, change the dynamics. There are differences that we have with President Maduro and his government, and we raise those differences and we talk about them.”

“Just today, Foreign Minister Rodriguez and I talked specifically about Venezuela and our hopes that we can find a better way forward, because all of the region will benefit if no country is being made a scapegoat for problems within a country, and in fact, all countries are working on solving those problems.”

“We hope that our diplomatic relations with Cuba can encourage not only greater dialogue with Venezuela but perhaps even efforts to try to help Colombia to end its more than 50-years war and perhaps even other initiatives.”

“It’s clear that Cuba has significant progress to make in all of those areas.  What’s also clear is that the previous [U.S.] . . . [did not] really make much progress [on these issues].  The President believed that a change was necessary.  And we’re hopeful that in the coming years we’ll start to see the kind of respect for basic human rights on the island of Cuba that the U.S.] has long advocated.”

[Moreover, an] overwhelming percentage of the Cuban people are supportive and optimistic about this change in policy because of a chance that is has to improve their prospects on the island nation of Cuba.”

“So the President is looking forward to these kinds of changes taking effect [so] that the Cuban people and the Cuban government start to enjoy the benefits and see the results from greater engagement with the [U.S.]”

“In the days after this agreement was announced back in December, a substantial number of individuals who had previously been held by the Cuban government for their political views were released.  And that’s an indication that the Cuban government is trying to at least change their reputation when it comes to these issues.“

“But we have got a long list of concerns.” In addition, “for a long time the U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba became a source of irritation in the relationship between the [U.S.] and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  And by removing that source of irritation, the [U.S.] can now focus attention of . . . other countries in the Western Hemisphere on the Cuban government’s rather sordid human rights record.”

“And again, that is part of the strategy for seeking to engage the Cuban people more effectively, and bring about the kind of change that we would like to see inside of Cuba.”

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[1] U.S. Dep’t of State, Press Availability with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez (July 20, 2015). A video and audio recording of the press conference is available on C-Span.

 

U.S. Announces Agreement To Restore Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

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.[1] A subsequent post will do the same for the Cuban announcement and reactions.

U.S. Announcement

President Obama & Vice President Biden
President Obama & Vice President Biden

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.”
Secretary John Kerry
Secretary John Kerry

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.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina
Jeffrey DeLaurentis & Marcelinio Medina

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.”

Conclusion

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.

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[1] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Letter from Barack Obama [to] Raúl Castro, Granma (July 1, 2015); Letters between Obama and Castro to restore diplomatic relations, el Pais (July 1, 2015); Kerry, Statement on Cuba (July 1, 2015); State Dep’t, Special Briefing on Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (July 1, 2015); Baker & Davis, U.S. and Cuba Reach an Agreement to Reopen Embassies, Officials Say, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015); Schwartz, Córdoba & Lee, U.S., Cuba Reach Agreement to Establish Full Diplomatic Relations, W.S.J. (June 30, 2015); Center for Democracy in Americas, Press Release: CDA Applauds Announcement That U.S. And Cuba Will Reopen Embassies (June 30, 2015); Minister for Foreign Affairs will receive †he Head of †he Section of Interests of the United States, Granma (July 1, 2015); Ayuso, Cuba and the United States announced the reopening of embassies on Wednesday, El Pais (July 1, 2015); Flake, Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba (June 30, 2015); Engage Cuba, Press Release: Statement from Engage Cuba on Announcement that U.S., and Cuban Embassies Will Re-open (July 1, 2015); Rubio, Rubio Comments On Obama Re-Establishing Diplomatic Relations With Cuba (July 1, 2015)

[2] This portion of the post is based upon the following: White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Rousseff of Brazil in Joint Press Conference (June 30, 2015); White House, Joint Communique by President Barack Obama and President Dilma Rousseff (June 30, 2015); Harris, Leader of Brazil Visits Amid Home Turbulence, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2015).

[3] 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Assessment of the Status of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

Three recent articles in Cuba’s state-controlled media offer the Cuban government’s assessment of the current status of U.S. reconciliation. The lead article was Cuban journalists’ interview of Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead diplomat for the negotiations with the U.S. This post will summarize these three articles [1] and then offer an evaluation of Cuba’s assessment.

Current Status of Negotiations

Several days after the failure of the countries to reach an agreement about re-establishing diplomatic relations, Vidal remained optimistic. In the five months since the December 17th announcement of rapprochement and the mutual release of certain prisoners, she thought there had been progress in the process of normalization of relations. The removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism was to happen by the end of May, as it in fact did on May 29th, and Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, D.C. has obtained a U.S. banking relation that was necessary for the effective operation of the Section and of a future Cuban embassy. [2]

In addition, for about the last two years, she added, the countries have been discussing and progressing on “technical” matters, including collaboration on infectious diseases, narcotics trafficking, immigration (including the U.S. “wet foot/dry foot” policy under its Cuban Adjustment Act) and their respective enforcement of their own domestic laws with visitors from the other country.

Moreover, said Vidal, the Cuba-U.S. interactions “are respectful, they are professional. We are treating each other as equals, on a foundation of respect and total reciprocity.”

Also supportive of reconciliation of the two countries have been visits to Cuba by U.S. federal and state government officials and U.S. business groups. [3]

 Re-establishment of Diplomatic Relations

Although the parties had not reached agreement on the details of re-establishing diplomatic relations at their negotiations in Washington, D.C. on May 21-22, Vidal suggested that progress had been made on these details, which conceivably could be resolved through direct communications without another negotiating session.

The remaining issues, she said, focused on the future “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission,” all under the U.N. Charter and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both parties recognize as establishing or confirming the international law on the subjects. More specifically, Vidal said, “We must talk about the number of people, what kind of staff” the embassies will have or “what type of rank these officials [are] going to have” and “what privileges and immunities.” [4]

These comments by Vidal (and by Jacobson in the footnote) suggest that the provisions of the Vienna Convention provide flexibility and thus room for negotiation on the details of the functioning of the two countries’ embassies and diplomats. Indeed, that assumption is confirmed by the following relevant provisions of the Convention:

  1. Under Article 7, “the sending State may freely appoint the members of the staff of the mission. In the case of military, naval or air attachés, the receiving State may require their names to be submitted beforehand, for its approval.” However, Article 11 provides “the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission” and also “may equally, within similar bounds and on a non-discriminatory basis, refuse to accept officials of a particular category.”
  1. With respect to diplomatic personnel’s travel and conduct, Article 26 states, “Subject to its laws and regulations concerning zones entry into which is prohibited or regulated for reasons of national security, the receiving State shall ensure to all members of the mission freedom of movement and travel in its territory.” However, Article 41 provides, “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.” In addition, Article 41 states, “The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.”

Vidal’s concern about the “conduct of diplomats” and “the functioning of a diplomatic mission” was an allusion to Cuba’s objection to certain recent covert or secret or “discreet” programs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allegedly to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba and to public seminars for Cuban journalists at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that will be discussed below.

 Future Issues for Discussion and Resolution

According to the Vidal interview, Cuba has presented to the U.S. the following “preliminary list” of other issues that need to be discussed and resolved for full normalization of relations: (a) the U.S. “lifting of the blockade [embargo];” (b) “the return of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base;” (c) “an end to illegal broadcasts by Radio and Televisión Marti;” (d) an “end to [U.S.] programs which were originally conceived to promote regime change” in Cuba and which for fiscal year 2016 have requests for funding of $20 million, especially in light of President Obama’s statement at the recent Summit of the Americas that the purpose of U.S. policy regarding Cuba was not regime change; [5] (e) “compensation for our country and our people for the damages caused by U.S. policy [primarily the embargo or blockade] over 50 years; ” and (f) restitution of Cuba’s frozen funds in the U.S.

The U.S., on the other hand, say the Cubans, has identified at least one issue for discussion in the second phase of negotiations: “compensation for the properties [of U.S. nationals] which were nationalized in Cuba at the beginning of the Revolution.” [6]

Moreover, Vidal said, the parties have not yet discussed how these issues would be discussed or resolved: “if a mechanism [such as commissions or groups] will be created;” or whether the issues would be discussed as a whole or separately.

According to the Gomez article in Granma, “the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.”

 Conclusion

The Obama Administration and this blogger concur in the need for the U.S. to end the embargo (or “blockade” in Cuba’s view), which requires action by the U.S. Congress. Prior posts have discussed pending bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to do just that and urged U.S. citizens to press both chambers to pass such bills. Another post recommended submitting Cuba’s claim for money damages ($1.2 trillion as of last October) from the embargo/blockade to the Permanent Court of Arbitration where the U.S. can mount counter-evidence and arguments.

With respect to Guantanamo Bay, as discussed in a prior post, Cuba’s continually saying that the U.S. is “illegally” occupying the territory does not make it so and I do not think the U.S. would ever agree to such a legal conclusion. If Cuba continues to assert that contention, as I expect that it will, then the parties should submit the dispute for resolution by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The New York Times editorial board and this blogger agree with Cuba’s contention that the U.S. improperly has mounted covert, secret or “discreet” and ill conceived USAID programs to promote regime change in Cuba and that the U.S. should cease any and all such programs. Instead, it should propose joint-programs to the Cuban government for enhancement of Cuban human rights and democracy, and if and only if the Cubans agree, then the programs could proceed. (These issues were discussed in posts of 4/4/14, 4/9, 4/9, 8/12, 8/13 and 8/14).

The U.S. claims for money damages for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of property owned by U.S. nationals and interests will obviously be discussed, as stated above, and in the likely event that the parties will not agree to the amount of such compensation, that too should be submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

In this process of working on the many issues that have accumulated over the last 50-plus years, both sides must recognize, as I think they do, the need to build mutual trust during the initial stages of diplomatic relations and, if all goes well, to the possible future relaxation of any restrictions. It does not help the process for bystanders, like Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, to loft scathing and premature criticisms of the process and to attempt to create new legislative roadblocks and impediments to that process.

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[1] This post is based upon the following: Josefina Vidal discusses recent talks in Washington, Granma (May 26, 2015); Gómez, Seven key points, Granma (May 25, 2015); Cańedo, Cuba-United States after 17D [December 17], Cubadebate (May 25, 2015).

[2] Immediately after the May 21-22 negotiations in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State Roberta S. Jacobson, the U.S.’ lead diplomat, shared Vidal’s optimism. Jacobson said, “This round of talks was highly productive. . . . We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. . . . [W]e have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. . . . I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we’re going to do that as quickly as possible.” On the other hand, according to Jacobson, “I’m also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.”

[3] These visits have included congressional trips in January, February (Senate and House), and May, and a visit by a major business delegation in March.

[4] Assistant Secretary Jacobson in her comments after the latest round of negotiations concurred that the Vienna Convention established the parameters for the functioning of the countries’ embassies and conceded that “there [is] a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won’t be unique. It won’t be anything that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. . . .[W]e have confidence that . . . our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.”

[5] Cuba correctly points out that USAID, on the one hand, proclaims on its public website that its Cuba programs “Provide humanitarian assistance (basic foodstuff, vitamins and personal hygiene supplies) to political prisoners and their families; Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as support for independent civil society by strengthening leadership skills and providing opportunities for community organizing; and Facilitate information flow to, from and within the island” and that through four named private “partners” it has spent and will spend a total of $14.2 million for these programs for the three fiscal years ending 9/30/15 and an additional $20 million in Fiscal Year 2016.  USAID, on the other hand, has carried out these programs unilaterally, without the prior knowledge or consent, of the Cuban government. In addition, the U.S. Department of State at its Interests Section in Havana has hosted seminars for journalists and a Public Information Center with a lending library and Internet-enabled computers available to Cubans and others. Assistant Secretary Jacobson said at the May 22nd press conference, “[W]e have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people [and] that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996” and they might be changed in the future.

[6] A prior post discussed the issue of Cuba’s compensating U.S. owners of property expropriated in the Cuban Revolution. Moreover, the U.S. already has identified at least the following additional issues for further discussion and negotiation: extradition of persons for crimes in their home country (2/24/15 post) and Cuban human rights and democracy (posts of 3/27, 3/28, 3/29, 3/30 and 4/1), and such discussions already have been commenced.