Rob Sequin | Havana Journal
One would be led to think that some sort of orchestrated behind-the-scenes political discussions have been taking place this week with regards to US Cuba relations.
Earlier in the week President Obama made a major policy change to allow Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba and send money to family members. He also directed his Administration to explore ways to allow more direct flights to Cuba and to allow US communications companies to establish a business presence in Cuba.
On Thursday Secretary Clinton said she expected Cuba to reciprocate for these gestures even though some of the language had a hint of promoting “regime change” in Cuba.
Raul Castro ready to talk about everything with US
However, President Raul Castro, speaking in Venezuela, said Cuba is open to talks with the United States about “everything” including political prisoners. He said “We have sent messages to the U.S. government in private and in public that we are willing to discuss everything, whenever they want… human rights, press freedom, political prisoners, everything, everything, everything they want to talk about”. The only caveat is that the talks be on equal terms and without challenging Cuba’s sovereignty.
This may be a sticking point because if the US acknowledges Cuba’s sovereignty then the US will have to formally recognize Raul Castro’s government as a legitimate government. The reason the US does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, nor an Embassy in Cuba, is because the US government has never formally recognized Fidel Castro’s government to be a legitimate government.
Furthermore, President Castro also called for the release of five Cubans imprisoned in the United States on espionage charges. The court cases of the “Cuban Five” have been going on for years. This issue is most likely a deal killer since the US is not going to release convicted felons in order to have talks with Cuba.
So, it remains to be seen how Obama responds to Castro’s demands for sovereignty and the release of the Cuban Five.
Even with these comments by Castro, this week’s statements by the US and Cuba is the closest thing to a dialog that the two countries have had in many years. Previously, Fidel Castro has insisted that Cuba’s domestic politics were Cuba’s own business so it is very interesting to have Raul Castro respond by offering “everything” to be on the table and it is also interesting that he responded so quickly.
Obviously the Summit of the Americas is the motivating factor for Cuba and the US.
Obama ready to recast relationship with Cuba
Obama said on Thursday there were a range of steps Cuba could take to recast relations between the two countries, which have been virtually frozen in the decades since Cuba’s 1959 Revolution.
“My guidepost in U.S. Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people, freedom of political speech, political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel,” he said during a news conference in Mexico. He also said that now is the time to “recast our relationship” with Cuba but that relations will not “thaw overnight”.