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Kerry to reopen embassy in Cuba, but tensions remain

Kerry to reopen embassy in Cuba, but tensions remain
By Elise Labott, CNN
Updated 1121 GMT (1821 HKT) August 14, 2015

Story highlights
Kerry’s visit marks the symbolic end of one of the last vestiges of the
Cold War. But signs of mistrust linger
President Barack Obama has eased some travel and business restrictions,
but only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo

(CNN)On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Cuba to raise
the flag above the U.S. Embassy for the first time in 54 years.

The day before, Cuban state media put out an article in the name of
Fidel Castro, writing on the occasion of his 89th birthday, in which he
made no reference to the historic resumption of U.S.-Cuba relations but
instead waxed on about the damage the American embargo has caused Cuba
and the anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Japan.

Kerry’s visit marks the symbolic end of one of the last vestiges of the
Cold War. But signs of mistrust linger, and beyond the pomp and
circumstance lies a long road back from more than half a century of
diplomatic animosity.

The rhetoric from the leader of the Cuban revolution, and the face of
anti-U.S. resistance, is not unexpected. But it underscores the
long-standing tensions at play as Washington and Havana work to thaw the
decadeslong chill in relations.

Even Kerry’s brief visit reflects the complexities of opening a new
chapter of engagement with the Cuban government.

He is accompanied by a number of U.S. lawmakers who have advocated
normalizing diplomatic and economic relations with the island. Several
Cuban-Americans also are part of the delegation.

Dissidents not invited to embassy opening
But anti-Castro dissidents won’t be at the U.S. Embassy ceremony marking
the restoration of ties. Instead, Kerry will meet dissidents and human
rights activists at another flag-raising, this one closed to press at
the residence of the U.S. chief of mission, along with a broad cross
section of Cuban entrepreneurs, journalists and artists.

U.S. officials shrugged off the different audiences, chalking it up to
“limited space” at the embassy flag-raising, which they termed a
“government-to-government movement.” But it reflected attention to the
sensitivities of the regime.

When Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez visited Washington
to reopen the Cuban embassy, he underscored the differences that remain.
Standing next to Kerry at the State Department last month, Rodriguez
made clear the full normalization of ties between the United States and
Cuba would be impossible as long as the blockade remains.

President Barack Obama has eased some travel and business restrictions,
but only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo, something that is
unlikely to happen with Republicans controlling both chambers through
the end of his term.

“Where we go from here has to do with what (happens) in the next 16
months, while the President is in office, if he is able to consolidate
what has already been done,” said Julia Sweig, a Latin America expert
long at the forefront of Washington’s Cuba policy debate.

“That happens by using his executive authority to open up new
opportunities for travel, trade and investment. And the Cuban government
needs to do the same,” she said. “This could neutralize remaining
opposition in Congress and make it impossible for the next president, if
it is a Republican, to reverse it.”

There are other areas where the administration is already pushing the
limits.

Take tourism. While only Congress can officially lift the “ban” on
tourism, the Treasury Department has taken a liberal view of what
“tourism” means when it provides licenses to travel to the island. The
parent company of Carnival, Princess and several other cruise lines plan
to launch “people-to-people” visits to the island by ship. Other tour
companies are offering vacation packages to Cuba for Americans loosely
labeled as “cultural experiences.”

Sweig said there are other business sectors that could benefit from the
same treatment.

“The difference between yes and no on any sector is a political decision
by the White House,” Sweig said. “They don’t’ have to wait for Congress.”

Senior administration officials said they are examining what more the
President can do to support the Cuban people and Cuban entrepreneurs but
said he would be cautious about going too far, too fast.

No plan to gut embargo
The officials said that the President’s calculus in carving out certain
sectors — health, agriculture, telecom and information — was that they
could be justified within the President’s executive authority as
humanitarian in nature and opening Cuba to the outside world.

But Obama will not do an end run around Congress and gut the embargo,
they said, something Republican lawmakers opposed to the new policy have
accused him of.

“These are areas we think can help bring about improvements in the lives
of average Cubans even if they bring some benefit to a government we
disagree with,” one senior official said. “We are making exceptions to
the embargo but still keeping the premise of it.

The official continued, “The question of whether you want basic
manufacturing to sell to Cuba is a very different question that goes to
the heart of a law which Congress passed.”

The United States is also looking for the Cuban government to take steps
to improve the relationship. The administration hopes to convince the
Cuban government to extradite some American criminals currently taking
refuge on the island, such as Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata
Shakur, and William Guillermo Morales.

U.S., Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations, reopen embassies

Castro granted Chesimard, a convicted murderer wanted by the FBI,
political asylum in Cuba, where she has remained ever since escaping
from a life sentence in 1979 from a New Jersey prison. Morales, a member
of a militant Puerto Rican separatist movement, planted a bomb at a New
York military installation and faced 89 years in prison when he escaped
from police custody while in a hospital in New York.

Washington also wants to settle property disputes for Americans that
were living in Cuba when the two countries cut off ties.

In addition, the U.S. wants to increase existing, albeit modest,
cooperation between Washington and Havana on areas such as
counternarcotics, migration, environment and global health. With
American diplomats now free to travel across the island, officials hope
they will get a better sense of the needs of the Cuban people and how
the United States can help.

Perhaps the most important driver of warming ties between the two
countries, however, will be the American and Cuban people. Officials say
that the increase in Americans traveling to Cuba has been positive, with
Cubans interacting with regular Americans for the first time in more
than 50 years.

“They see we don’t have horns and a tail,” one official said. “And
Americans are getting a more nuanced view of Cuba than cigars, mojitos
and old cars.”

Source: Kerry to reopen embassy in Cuba but tensions remain –
CNNPolitics.com –
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/14/politics/cuba-embassy-opening-john-kerry-visit/index.html?eref=rss_politics

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