US-Cuba Relations: Stage Set for Historic Meeting Between Obama and Castro

Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal sits down with ABC News’ Jim Avila

ByABC News
March 31, 2015, 12:34 PM

— -- The United States and Cuba are set to mark an historic milestone next week with President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro poised to share the stage at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.

It will be the first scheduled meeting between leaders of the two countries in nearly 60 years.

In advance of the historic meeting, “Power Players” sat down with Josefina Vidal, the head diplomat representing Cuba in negotiations with the United States in the months following President Obama’s announcement in December that the U.S. would normalize relations with the Communist island.

In what she described as a “new era” of relations between the two neighboring countries, Vidal said one of the biggest challenges is to move beyond the distrust that was built over 54 years of severed ties.

"We still have to overcome it, so it's a process,” Vidal said, “because we haven't had that confidence for many years … But the idea is to get there.”

While President Obama has publicly stated that one of the United States’ primary goals in engaging anew with Cuba is to more directly affect change in the Communist country that the U.S. government says is riddled with human rights abuses, Vidal said she does not view the stated American goal as a threat.

“We know that this is the way the United States government presents its policy toward Cuba, but what we believe is that we can respect each other's differences and at the same time work together on issues of common interest as neighbors,” Vidal said.

"The best way to achieve this kind of new relationship is that we both open up,” Vidal added.

It’s a perspective shared by former Cuban president Fidel Castro, Vidal said, while qualifying with a laugh that he has “many reasons to have suspicions” of the U.S. government.

“He has said very clearly that the president of Cuba [Raul Castro] has the prerogative to do what he has been doing on matters concerning US-Cuban relations,” Vidal said of the retired president. “He believes … that confidence has to be built between Cuba and the United States, because this is what has been lacking.”

President Obama called on Congress to lift the trade embargo with Cuba in his State of the Union Address in January. And though the Congress has resisted the president’s call, Vidal said Cuba is preparing to attract investment within its existing Communist framework once it is embargo is lifted.

“We need investment in Cuba,” Vidal said. “We have been studying what a small country like Singapore has been doing … but in summary, it’s going to be a Cuban Model.”

For more of the interview with Vidal, including how she says a “mutual process of influence” has begun thanks to a fresh wave of American travel to the country, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Serena Marshall, Richard Coolidge, Ali Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Dick Norling and John Glennon contributed to this episode.