Cuba

Human rights will be at the center of U.S. diplomatic discussions in Havana

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s head of North American affairs, and Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, will head their respective delegations during diplomatic discussions in Havana.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s head of North American affairs, and Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, will head their respective delegations during diplomatic discussions in Havana.

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.

The two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday will be at the convention center in Havana known in Spanish as the Palacio de Convenciones.

The U.S. delegation will be led by Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She will be joined by Edward Alex Lee, the Department of State’s assistant secretary of the Bureau for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Leading talks for Cuba is Josefina Vidal, head of North American affairs for Cuba’s foreign ministry.

Beyond the televised declarations of Cuba leader Raúl Castro at the closing session of Cuba’s National Assembly in December, where he reiterated his willingness to have a dialogue "on all issues" with the United States, Havana has said little about the new measures announced by President Barack Obama or the upcoming round of negotiations.

Following the start of new regulations last week that softens travel and trade rules, the official Cuban press published a single press release, originally written by the National Information Agency (AIN). It noted that "the economic, commercial and financial blockade remains," and an official journalist warned that although the U.S. had "silk gloves, a death sentence toward the island still stands, which forces David to be more astute than ever in the face of Goliath."

The U.S. official, who spoke with some reporters on “background” via a teleconference on the condition of not being named, said the Obama administration is aware of the recent arrests of Cuban activists, dissidents and artist Tania Bruguera, who attempted to organize an open mic performance at the Plaza of the Revolution. The official they had "no illusions" about Castro’s government, "and therefore the promotion of human rights and democracy will be at the center of our policy."

The agenda for the meeting has modest goals, focusing primarily on the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, lifting travel restrictions imposed on U.S. diplomats and giving unrestricted access to Cubans who want to visit the embassy. Currently, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana serves as a consular office.

The State Department official discarded possible changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act or current policy on the deportation of Cubans. Asked if the U.S. will seek the return of U.S. fugitives in Cuba, including Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of killing a state trooper New Jersey, the official said those topics were part of regularly scheduled migration talks. But that request has been denied by Cuba.

The official also confirmed that the U.S. delegation has every intention to meet with Cuban dissidents, some of whom have criticized the negotiations underway.

"We will take into account each and every one of their opinions, which have the authenticity of those living on the island," the official said.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

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