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US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro

US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro
POSTED: MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2015 9:05 PM | UPDATED: 11:45 PM, MON JAN
19, 2015.
Associated Press |

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s foreign minister told a group of U.S. senators and
congressmen Monday that his country is open to greater diplomatic and
trade ties but the congressional delegation did not meet President Raul
Castro, the man who will make many of the key decisions about the new
U.S.-Cuban relationship.
The U.S. delegation was led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who played a key role
in the release of American contractor Alan Gross as part of a prisoner
exchange that paved the way for the move toward full diplomatic
relations. Leahy met with Castro on past trips to Cuba but did not do so
again on Monday, two days before Assistant Secretary of State Roberta
Jacobson arrives in Havana to negotiate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy.
The delegation met for several hours with Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez, who told the legislators that Cuba welcomed President Barack
Obama’s loosening of the U.S. trade embargo, which would permit more
travel to Cuba and economic links including exports of
telecommunications equipment and wholesale goods for use by the
country’s small private sector.
“He’s open to every single issue from trade to communications,” Leahy
told reporters before leaving Havana. “He talked about the travel back
and forth, medical issues. Name an issue, he’s involved.”
Leahy and five other Democratic senators and representatives were trying
to ease the reestablishment of full relations by conveying to Cuban
officials that their actions in the coming months will influence
Congressional openness to Obama’s reforms. At the same time, they are
trying to get a sense of the biggest mystery hanging over the new stage
of U.S.-Cuban relations: how will Castro’s government respond to the
U.S. push to expand diplomatic relations and trade ties?
Cuba has so far offered a guardedly positive reception to Obama’s
loosening of the trade embargo on Cuba, saying it welcomes the full
package of new economic ties on offer, from sales of telecommunications
equipment to exports to the private business sector. But it insists it
will maintain its one-party political system and centrally planned economy.
It has released 53 prisoners on a list of dissidents the U.S. wanted
freed, but said nothing about whether it will allow U.S. products to
flow to Cuba without the staggering taxes and regulations that keep many
other foreign products from reaching ordinary Cubans.
With formal diplomatic relations highly restricted, some of the most
significant U.S.-Cuban contacts in recent years have been carried out by
Congressional delegations. While Obama’s actions fall under executive
authority and don’t require Congressional approval, legislators could
hinder key measures including the removal of Cuba from the list of state
sponsors of terror.
On Saturday, the delegation met with officials from Cuba’s Culture
Ministry in order to discuss possible Cuban participation in the
Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival, a summer celebration of
traditional art and culture on Washington’s National Mall. The senators
met Sunday with more than a dozen dissidents including critics of the
18-month-old secret negotiations that led to last month’s announcement.
“It was a friendly meeting, they heard the different positions, but the
senators are very much in favor of Obama’s measures and want to hear
that we agree,” said Antonio Rodiles, who criticizes the Obama
administration for failing to win enough guarantees of reform from
Castro. “I said the process took place without transparency or taking
the full range of opinions into account.”
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Human Rights and National
Reconciliation Commission, a Cuban non-governmental organization
tracking political detentions, said that meeting participants had
delivered a list of 24 long-term prisoners whom they wanted to see
released in addition to the 53 on the Obama administration’s list.
On Monday, along with the possible meeting with Castro, the delegation
will hold talks with lower-ranking Cuban officials in fields like
agriculture, the environment and telecommunications.
____

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Source: US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro –
Omaha.com: World –
http://www.omaha.com/news/world/us-delegation-meets-with-cuban-officials-not-castro/article_1fa86afc-6947-5c06-9f5a-23c2b8d90bba.html

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