The director of the US Department at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, said that relations between Havana and Washington must make progress in 2016, although it is an election year in the United States.
“I continue working with a good deal of impulse and optimism, but some realism is starting to influence me, because there is an election process ahead in the United States; we don’t know what is going to happen,” said Vidal, the head of the Cuban negotiating team, in an interview with the Cuban News Agency (ACN).
There is a year left to work with this administration and on Cuba’s side, there is a will to continue making progress and we see possibilities to do so, she noted. However, she added, it will be a shorter year due to the campaign; politically speaking, it will end in the summer.
“There are variables out of our control, but we will continue with the conviction that Cuba and the United States have no other destiny than respectful coexistence, because life has proved that confrontation does not benefit anyone,” she noted.
Regarding the possibility of going back to the situation prior to December 17, 2014, when the presidents of Cuba, Raul Castro, and the United States, Barack Obama, announced their decision to start talks to reestablish relations and normalize bilateral ties, Vidal answered cautiously.
“I have interestingly read academics and intellectuals, even members of the US Congress, who say categorically that the process is irreversible. I would not be so absolute. There are aspects that are not,” she stressed.
Vidal pointed out that she cannot imagine a new president, whoever he/she will be, saying that he/she will break off relations with Cuba and will close the embassy.
However, she pointed out that there are other issues in which those ties might move back, like cooperation in different fields, the derogation of some instruments approved by executive decision or to strip them of their purpose through inaction.
Therefore, she noted that “as long as Obama takes quick steps in the economic-commercial field, he will be assuring, although not totally, irreversibility, because in that country, business is one of the essences of the functioning of the system.
About civilized coexistence with the United States, Vidal answered. “Army General Raul Castro coined the phrase: civilized coexistence on the basis of respect to differences.”
She noted that it has been a pending task. Cuba has never had a civilized relation with the United States and as we want it: respectful and as equals.
“That is why I always say, we are building a new type of relation in a road that has not been traveled before, which offers opportunities to work together on matters that affect us equally, but at the same time it has challenges, because we come from a period of really tough confrontation,” Vidal underlined.
Notwithstanding, she stated that within those conflicting ties, there has been cooperation. As an example, she mentioned the bilateral cooperation after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 or the fight against Ebola in Western Africa in 2014.
She pointed out that after diplomatic relations were reestablished (in mid 2015), we are moving towards the coordination of instruments to design formal frameworks of cooperation.
In that regard, she said that in the environmental field, Havana and Washington already adopted a joint general declaration that has to be adjusted. The same thing happened regarding the fight against drugs, as there several drafts have been exchanged to reach an agreement.
Vidal informed that early this year, the two countries are planning high-level meetings between the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and the US Department of Health and Human Resources to take actions on cooperation based on identified interests.
However, she said, that contradicts the US Cuban Medical Professionals’ Program (CMPP), something that “they know”. “We repeat it to them permanently. It not only contradicts that specific aspect of cooperation, but the entire bilateral climate that the US government is allegedly interested in boosting with Cuba.”
President Obama could change that Program, as well as the dry feet-wet feet policy, because they are not laws, the Cuban diplomat noted.
It is a policy, a program. They could issue a communiqué saying that it is over, she pointed out.
Vidal underlined that amid the current context, the Cuban Medical Professionals’ Program does not stand up, the same happens with the dry feet-wet feet policy, which not only continue stimulating illegal emigration but promoting irregular emigration, because most people who are trying to reach its (US) borders left Cuba legally.
And beyond that dry feet-wet feet policy is the Cuban Adjustment Act. A big problem would be solved if it is derogated. It would homogenize its own migration policy, it would eliminate an incentive to illegal emigration and it would deal a blow to human trafficking, Vidal noted.
Asked about the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on the Caribbean island for more than half a century, the Cuban diplomat assured that the steps taken by Obama since December 17, 2015, have barely had a political cost for him.
However, “the president (Obama) has space to maneuver and he would better take other steps, because the scope of the measures taken so far is limited. They had not even overcome the obstacles that would pave the way for the implementation of those that are already in force.”
After mentioning some obstacles that still remain due to that US punitive policy, Vidal stressed that “any measure to dismantle the blockade will benefit us; that is why, it is our permanent war horse, because it is an obstacle to all our plans of development.”
About the aspects in which bilateral relations might make progress this year, Vidal mentioned the follow-up on the agreement on regular direct flights, which was adopted ad referendum, so the texts must be compared.
Another result will be the beginning of postal flights. Cuba also wants to sign an instrument this year to formalize cooperation to fight drug trafficking.
“We will continue the talks on compensations, a complex issue that will take time, due to everything that has to be resolved, because there is not a recipe. When we look at other countries’ experiences, they have been solved differently, with the particularities in each case,” Vidal concluded.