Keeping score: Which side got more from new U.S.-Cuba policy?
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
As the United States and Cuba prepare to resume diplomatic relations
Monday for the first time in 54 years, the debate over who got the
better deal in the historic rapprochement continues to swirl, especially
in South Florida, where Cuba-watching sometimes resembles a contact sport.
Some say they see positives for both sides and a plus for the United
States or say it’s not about who got the upper hand in the negotiations
to end more than a half-century of hostilities. Others, such as Florida
Sen. Marco Rubio, say they see “concession after concession” made to a
Cuban government that continues to crack down on dissidents and human
“What difference does it make who gains more, especially since there is
no clear loser?” asks Helene Dudley, a former Peace Corps volunteer who
now works with a micro-loan program. “The people of both countries
benefit from this win-win deal, and it’s impossible to gauge the ripple
effects. We should drop our pettiness toward Cuba. Each side has much
cause for regret in actions over the last 100 years. It is time to move
But for the Cuban-American congressional delegation, the United States
got the short end of the stick in the new relationship that officially
begins Monday with the opening of respective embassies in Washington,
D.C., and Havana.
“The so-called negotiations by the Obama administration have resulted in
nothing but a Christmas in July for the Castros,” said South Florida
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “With nothing in return from the
communist regime, the United States has managed to legitimize the Castro
brothers with an American embassy in Havana, has given the Cubans access
to financial institutions in the U.S., has promoted an infusion of
American tourism to the island, and has delisted Cuba from the State
Sponsor of Terrorism list.”
“President Obama continues to appease [the Cuban people’s] oppressors,”
said South Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. “The Cuban people
are calling out for solidarity with their struggle for freedom, not
collaboration with those that imprison them. If only we had a president
that knew the difference.”
A Bendixen & Amandi poll based on 1,200 interviews with Cuban adults
from across the island found that 97 percent thought reestablishing
diplomatic relations with the United States would be a good thing.
Diaz-Balart noted that the Cuban government has arrested more than 2,000
dissidents and activists, although most were short-term detentions,
since Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro
announced that the two nations had achieved a diplomatic breakthrough
after 18 months of secret negotiations.
Rubio, who is among a crowded field seeking the Republican presidential
nomination, said he intends to block the confirmation of a U.S.
ambassador to Cuba until issues such as the return of U.S. fugitives
living in Cuba, the claims of U.S. citizens for property confiscated in
Cuba, political freedom for the Cuban people, and removal of all
restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Cuba are addressed.
A provision in the State Department funding bill that prohibits funds
for an embassy or other diplomatic facility beyond what was authorized
prior to Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement is still awaiting floor consideration.
For the record, during negotiations that stretched from January until
July 1, when both sides announced they had a deal to open embassies,
Cuba had two main objectives: its removal from the U.S. list of State
Sponsors of Terrorism — a designation that carries sanctions — and
finding a bank to handle the accounts of its diplomatic missions and
employees in the United States. After losing its former banker, the
missions had operated for more than a year on a cash basis. The Cubans
were 2-2 on those issues.
Going into the talks, the main objectives of the United States were:
unrestricted travel within Cuba for embassy personnel, unfettered access
for Cubans trying to visit the embassy, removal of a staffing cap of 51
Americans, and a guarantee of secure shipments to the embassy.
Here’s what was agreed upon, according to a Congressional source:
senior-most diplomats from both embassies can travel without prior
notification to host governments, and other embassy personnel need to
give notification of their travel plans but no longer have to wait for
approval; Cuban authorities, who had maintained a checkpoint outside the
Cuban Interests Section, will no longer require pre-registration of
visitors; both sides will be allowed to increase staffing levels, but
it’s unclear whether the current U.S. facility can accommodate personnel
growth, and the Cubans agreed to the U.S. request for secure shipments.
“We are satisfied with the conditions agreed to, including access to
diplomatic facilities, travel of diplomats, and the level of staffing,”
said a senior State Department official. “We’re confident that our
embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies
operating in restrictive environments. We will be able to meet and
exchange opinions with a variety of voices and views both within the
government and outside.”
As part of the opening, the United States also announced measures that
will make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and do business and
trade with private entrepreneurs and some Cuban government entities. As
a separate gesture of goodwill, Castro released 53 political prisoners.
But critics complain that more political prisoners remain in Cuban
jails. The U.S. appears to have gotten most of the items on its checklist.
“The United States got something very important, the opening of the
embassy,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a retired Cuban diplomat whose last
posting was as ambassador to the European Union. It was something that
Cuba didn’t particularly want, he said. “An American Embassy in Cuba is
a problem for us. Remember, it’s an asymmetrical relationship.” Cuba
also accepted the deal, he said, with the embargo largely in place.
Meanwhile, both sides have agreed to continue holding separate talks on
issues such as human rights and migration.
All the debate over who got more “just baffles me,” said Vivian
Mannerud, who runs Airline Brokers, a company that makes travel
arrangements for Cuba trips. “What can Cuba give us? They didn’t take
anything from us. They didn’t put any trade and travel sanctions on us.
We took Guantánamo,” she said. “Have they taken away from the Cuban
people, yes. But that is a different story.”
Still, the plight of the Cuba people is why Marta Hernandez, a retired
school administrator from Miami, said the Castro brothers and the Cuban
government are the “clear winners” in the new relationship. She doesn’t
buy the argument that the embargo has been the main cause of hardship
for the Cuban people. Other countries continue to trade with Cuba, she
said, and “50 years of partnership made no difference to Cuba or its
people. The problem in Cuba is not the U.S. embargo, it is the system.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson, who was the chief U.S. negotiator in talks leading up to the
embassy openings, said the old policy of isolation was harming U.S.
relationships with the rest of the hemisphere and that the new policy
has been well received around the Americas.
Looking at the potential economic benefits for both sides, Bruce
Lamberto of North Miami Beach said it’s a win-win. “Cuba will eventually
get massive economic development on the part of private companies
signing design-build agreements with Cuba. [The island] also will
benefit from the millions of U.S. tourists that will soon be visiting,”
he said. “The U.S. benefits by allowing U.S. companies to take part in
the development that was formerly done by foreign countries.”
The really big areas of contention — the embargo, U.S. property claims,
the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo, the return of convicted felons, and
Cuban calls for the end of Radio and TV Martí and for reparations for
economic and human damages caused by the United States — are yet to be
With the opening of the embassies, Castro said earlier this week that
the “long and complex” phase of normalizing the relationship between the
two countries will begin.
“In the short run, certainly the Cubans got more. In the long run, we
don’t know yet,” said Andy Gomez, a long-time Cuban scholar.
“Reestablishing diplomatic relations is one thing, and reconciliation is
another. And that could take a long time.”
Source: Keeping score: Which side got more from new U.S.-Cuba policy? |
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