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Havana’s goals in U.S.-Cuba normalization remain unclear

Havana’s goals in U.S.-Cuba normalization remain unclear
By Karen DeYoung January 10 at 8:54 PM

One of the first things the State Department would like to do when
diplomatic relations are reestablished with Cuba is to renovate the once
and future U.S. Embassy building — a six-story, 1950s-era structure on
the Havana waterfront that is in desperate need of a new roof.

That will be the easy part of U.S.-Cuba normalization talks scheduled to
begin Jan. 21, barely a month after President Obama’s surprise
announcement of renewed diplomatic ties.

Administration officials are fairly clear about what they want the talks
to achieve, including agreement to increase the number of U.S. diplomats
allowed in Cuba, currently set at 51. Most of those are consular
officials handling U.S. immigration and tourist visas for Cubans, which
last year totaled more than 56,000.

The “normal” embassy that the administration has said it wants to
establish in Havana would include officials attached to other
departments beyond State, such as Commerce, Treasury, Justice and an
intelligence contingent. Existing restrictions on official travel around
the island would be eliminated, with reciprocal lifting of limits for
Cuba’s diplomats and other officials here, currently limited to 26.

New parameters for U.S. trade and other exchanges under the remaining
embargo are expected to be published by the Treasury and Commerce
departments as early as this coming week. They will focus heavily on the
U.S. export of telecommunications equipment to Cuba, a part of the
sanctions and supplementary laws that are more loosely constructed than
other prohibitions.

More than 50 years after the U.S.-imposed embargo, President Obama has
announced an effort to normalize ties with Cuba.
But what Cuba wants out of normalization, beyond the reestablishment of
its longtime embassy on 16th Street NW in the District, is less clear.
Although the 18 months of secret, Vatican-blessed talks eventually led
to diplomatic agreement, many details must be worked out.

And even assuming the best of Cuban intentions, two significant factors
could limit a bustling new relationship.

The wording of anti-Cuba legislation leaves substantial wiggle room for
easing existing trade, travel and financial regulations. But the laws
insist that full economic relations cannot be established until Cuba
allows freedom of political and other expression and moves toward a
democratically elected government, something the ruling Communist Party
has shown no interest in.

U.S. offers to construct a modern telecommunications infrastructure
could provide not only vastly improved Internet and cellphone
capabilities for Cuban citizens but also a potential new revenue stream
for the government. If Cuba decides not to avail itself of the
opportunity, it will be largely because its communist leaders have
decided they don’t want their citizens to have more open contact with
each other and the world.

The administration, which so far has little indication of what direction
the Cuban government will move, will be looking for hints in the
upcoming talks. At the same time, however, no matter how eager the U.S.
government and companies are to trade with Cuba, the island has little
to sell and little money to buy U.S. goods.

There is little manufacturing and its agricultural produce is unlikely
to significantly break into a hemispheric market that is glutted with
similar products or, as with sugar in the United States, heavily
regulated to give the advantage to domestic players.

What Cuba does have is the makings of a strong service economy fueled by
tourism and an exceptionally well-educated population. The question to
which U.S. officials have few answers is whether the government is
prepared to utilize those resources in ways that are bound to undercut
its tight grip on the Cuban people and their access to the rest of the

As Obama and other U.S. officials have said repeatedly since the opening
was announced, they view normalization as a step-by-step process that
will not be completed overnight. They have made clear that the goal of
allowing more Americans, and more American products, to travel to Cuba
is to gradually pry open island society and politics. With more
opportunities to talk directly to the Cuban government, officials have
said, they will talk more about human rights and other problems they see.

Already, some U.S. lawmakers and interest groups have indicated they see
problems with what Cuba has offered on the front end of the deal and
want faster evidence of change on the island. In a letter sent to Obama
on Thursday, the top Republican and Democratic members of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee insisted that he publicly release the names
and current status of 53 political prisoners Havana has pledged to release.

“We think you will agree that the United States-Cuba relationship cannot
near its considerable potential until the fundamental human rights of
the Cuban people are respected by their government,” wrote Rep. Edward
R. Royce (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, and ranking member Rep.
Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.).

So far, the administration has resisted pressure to release the names,
out of concern it would target specific detainees and irritate Havana.
But officials were noticeably relieved when more than three dozen
detainees had exited Cuban jails by Friday.

“I’m not going to confirm numbers or names at this point in time,” State
Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Friday. “But these releases are
certainly consistent with the cases that we raised with the Cuban

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security
correspondent for the Washington Post.

Source: Havana’s goals in U.S.-Cuba normalization remain unclear – The
Washington Post –

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