Cuban leader Raúl Castro said Wednesday that when Cuba and the United States reestablish diplomatic ties next week after a 54-year gap, the “long and complex” phase of the relationship will begin as the two countries work toward normalizing relations.
During a speech before Cuba’s National Assembly, its parliament, Castro said the Cuban government wants to move forward in the relationship, “convinced that both countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized way, in mutual benefit, despite the differences we have and will have.”
Cuba and the United States plan to reestablish diplomatic relations Monday, and Cuba will hold a ceremony in Washington as the Cuban Interests Section, which handled consular affairs and other diplomatic matters in the absence of an embassy, once again becomes the Cuban Embassy. On Wednesday, a workman removed the old Interests Section plaque from the NW 16th St. building.
“A new stage will begin, long and complex, on the road toward normalization, which will require the will to find solutions to problems that have accumulated over more than five decades and hurt ties between our nations and peoples,” Castro said in remarks published on the state-run website Cubadebate.
Cuba is trying to forge new ties with the United States “different from those of our entire common history,” Castro said.
Washington is expected to hold a ceremony marking the conversion of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana into a full-fledged embassy later next week.
Castro said he hoped that President Barack Obama would continue to use his executive power to dismantle the “blockade,” the Cuban term for the embargo, and work with Congress to lift it. While the embargo is still in effect, Castro said, it won’t be possible to have normal relations between the United States and Cuba.
The Cuban leader also repeated previous calls to return the land occupied by the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, end “illegal” radio and television transmissions by Radio and TV Martí, compensate Cuba for economic and human damages caused by the policies of the United States, and eliminate U.S. programs whose aim is subversion and destabilization of Cuba as conditions necessary before there could be true normalization of the relationship.
Castro also implied Cuba wouldn’t be changing because the United States wants change on the island: “Changing everything that must be changed is the sovereign and exclusive business of Cubans.”
Miami lawyer Dan Zabludowski, who visited Cuba in May with the international section of the Florida Bar, said that the lawyers also heard that message of change from government officials. “The most important thing they were saying to us is we know the system doesn’t work. We have to change it.”
But while Cuba seems willing to make economic changes, it’s made it clear the end game is maintaining the current political system.
Castro also gave a brief report on the economy, but said a more complete update on the status of economic guidelines undertaken during the Sixth Party Congress would be presented in April at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
However, he did say that slightly more than 500,000 Cubans have joined the ranks of the self-employed and that the economic slowdown of recent years has been reversed. Castro said the economy grew by 4.7 percent in the first half of the year and economic growth for the entire year was expected to come in at around 4 percent. “And this is very good, taking into account that last year we only grew 1 percent,” he said.
As expected, Castro said, inflation was running at 3-5 percent — “although we can’t ignore the just worries of the population over the high prices of agricultural products that are growing more than the average wage.”