A delegation of members of Congress who have been some of the strongest advocates of lifting the American trade embargo with Cuba concluded a three-day visit here on Monday with optimism over trade deals but without an anticipated meeting with President Raúl Castro — apparently because of its decision to meet with several Cuban dissidents, The New York Times reports:
The delegation, which included Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a longtime visitor who has long been involved in Cuban-American relations, emphasized the bright spots of the visit, particularly potential openings for American agricultural products in Cuba.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson is also expected to meet maybe on Friday, with Cuban dissidents or civil society activists.
“This is historic. We were frozen in the same foreign policy with Cuba for over 50 years,” Democratic senator Dick Durbin said. “Finally this president came to the realisation that that policy wasn’t serving the best interests of the US, of Cuba, or of the world. Now we are moving toward a new era,” he told AFP:
The first day of the talks will centre on migration — an issue that has vexed both nations for decades, with Cubans hopping on rickety boats to traverse 145km of shark-infested waters to reach Florida. Then on Friday, the two sides will negotiate the reopening of their embassies.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs Roberta Jacobson will head the American delegation while the Cubans will be represented by the foreign ministry’s director for US affairs, Josefina Vidal.
A senior US State Department official said in Washington the US side wants communist Cuba to lift travel restrictions for American diplomats. The official added, however, that US negotiators were not going with the expectation of closing all of those issues in “this first conversation”.
“We hope there will be an accelerated pace of engagement beyond this first conversation,” the official said. “A lot of the pace depends on the Cuban government.”
The US lawmakers “wanted to hear our opinions, and they also gave their own opinions,” Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban National Reconciliation and Human Rights Committee told AFP:
About 15 opponents of the Americas’ only communist government met for more than two hours with the American visitors, underlining the fact that dissidents have many different views and priorities.
“Among us, there are those who support (US-Cuban) rapprochement and others who do not,” Sanchez said…..Among the dissidents attending the meeting with US lawmakers were blogger Yoani Sanchez, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, active in the east.
Human rights and democracy will be at the center of talks when delegations from the United States and Cuba gather in Havana this week as part of continuing negotiations toward full diplomatic relations, a high-ranking U.S. official said Monday.
Amnesty International objected recently to the dangerousness “law” used by the Cuban government to send dissidents to prison if the government believes that, even without any evidence, the person could commit a crime in the future, writes Frank Calzon, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba:
Amnesty said after the president’s statement that if there were no changes in Castro’s arbitrary decrees, the prisoners’ release would be little more than a smokescreen covering abuse and repression on the island. Shouldn’t absurd laws like this also be on the U.S. agenda?
House Speaker John Boehner will broadcast his opposition to President Obama’s executive action to normalize relations with Cuba to an international audience by bringing a top leader of the Cuban resistance movement to the State of the Union speech, The Washington Examiner reports:
One of Boehner’s confirmed guests for the evening is Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who is known as “Antunez.” Antunez, the 43-year-old leader of Cuba’s civic resistance movement, served more than 17 years in prison, with the Castro regime releasing him in 2007 ahead of expected European sanctions. He lives in Cuba and will return there in two weeks.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio announced that Cuban activist Rosa Maria Payá would be his guest for the address tomorrow evening:
Payá is the daughter of the late democracy leader Oswaldo Payá, who, along with Harold Cepero, was killed in an automobile accident on July 22, 2012 in Bayamo, Cuba.
The regime targeted Payá because he “crossed a red line in challenging the government’s relations with the church, which had become a pillar of the government’s strategy of survival…. at a time when the regime, emboldened by the cardinal’s silence at the mass arrests during the pope’s visit to Cuba in March, was not about to tolerate criticism,” said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman.