What Cuban and American Officials Agree On (And What They Don’t)

Reps can’t seem to agree if they spoke about human rights or not.

ByJIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL
January 22, 2015, 6:40 PM

— -- You’d have to wonder if they were at the same meeting.

Today, as historic talks between the U.S. and Cuba to restore diplomatic relations brought the two countries together in Havana for the first time since President Carter, they can’t seem to agree if they spoke about human rights or not.

“The president has spoken to the issue and certainly that issue remains central to our conversations...we’ve made clear we will continue to raise that issue…and I did discuss that issue today," said Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of Western Hemisphere for the State Department. "It was part of my conversation and as the president noted. We are ensuring that we raise those issues directly with the Cuban govern. We do have differences in that subject (human rights), profound differences, with the Cuban government; and it was part of the conversation today.”

Or not.

“Well that issue (human rights) has not been addressed at our meeting today—our meeting today exclusively discussed the opening of embassy and the agenda of how we are going to operate,” Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Cuba's director-general of the U.S. Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in Spanish.

Well, that was this morning.

By the afternoon—they had definitely spoken about human rights. But agree?

The U.S. issuing a statement highlighting the afternoon talks focused on human rights.

“We pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression and assembly,” Jacobson said in statement issued by the State department.

Cuba in a press conference in Spanish said pressure has never been shown to work for Cuba.

“I can assure you that term pressure was not used during the conversations—that is not the kind of term that is used in discussion of this nature---and on the other hand, everybody knows Cuba has history that it has never responded to pressure from anyone over any issue,” Vidal said.

Vidal expressed Cuba’s own concern for human rights in America, including Guantanamo and Ferguson.

“Cuba has concerns about the exercise of human rights in the United States… at the same time Cuba considers to have interesting experiences to show as well as share, referred to the enjoyment of… human rights not only in our country but also our modest contribution to improve human rights and life conditions in other foreign countries,” Vidal said in Spanish.

What they do agree on—these talks are just the beginning.

“Our efforts to normalize relations will be a continuing process that goes beyond establishing diplomatic relations or opening an embassy,” Jacobson said during a press conference following the morning meeting. “We discussed the opening of embassies in our respective countries and how we expect the U.S. embassy in Havana to operate.”

The two countries are starting with embassies because, well, that’s the easy stuff.

“Establishment of diplomatic relations really does not have a checklist or a template that one has to follow every time. It is done by mutual consent of the two countries and it is a relatively straight forward process.” Jacobson said.

They don’t have a date for their opening yet; first they have to work through the logistics of making them work. And well, that may seem “relatively straight forward” for diplomats. It is still cumbersome.

Part of the problem for making that happen? The Cubans inability to use U.S. banking systems at their Interest section in Washington, D.C. due to the embargo, an issue they say must be resolved prior to the reopening of embassies in either country.

The two countries did announce they are using the Vienna convention as the basis for their discussions, which states that the host state must provide the necessary services needed to function as an embassy.

While there are other sticking points for both countries—Cuba wanting an end to the embargo and being removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (currently under review by the state department); the ability for Cubans to gain automatic citizenship upon touching U.S. soil; the U.S. wanting Cubans to have full access to the embassy.

Let’s not forget, while we don’t know who is telling the truth on their talks on human rights, we do know, this is a process of bringing two countries with different views together for the first time in more than 50-years.

“What you have to recognize is, as our presidents have taken this step, to overcome more than 50 years of relationship that was not based on confidence or trust. So there are things we have to discuss before we can establish that relationship. So there will be future conversations,” Jacobson said.

A point both countries agree on.

Vidal added that while no plans are made for their next meeting, she’d go to DC—“if they invite me.”

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