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White House: We will continue to pursue increased engagement between the United States and Cuba

Raul y ObamaExactly one year after the historic announcements of December 17, 2014, the White House issued a fact sheet this Thursday outlining the progress made in relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

The document stresses that the Barack Obama administration’s new approach has allowed for “the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and adjusted regulations to facilitate greater travel, commerce, people-to-people ties, and the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.”

“Since the President’s announcement, the United States and Cuba have taken many steps as part of our effort to normalize relations, focusing on areas of mutual interest, including establishing diplomatic relations, enhancing security, building bridges between our peoples, and promoting economic prosperity for citizens of both our countries,” the fact sheet adds.

The White House noted that normalization is “a complex, long-term process, and we will continue to work with Cuba to address areas of mutual concern even as we will be very clear about our differences.”

The document also highlights the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in May 2015, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in July and the establishment of a Bilateral Steering Commission to monitor the process towards normalization of ties in August.

Details are also provided on the dialogue conducted regarding issues of mutual interest such as law enforcement, fighting drug trafficking, human rights, requests for compensation, among others.

Also mentioned are the agreements for environmental protection and the reestablishment of direct postal services, after more than half a century of stagnation.

The White House document outlines international cooperation in the health sector, highlighting the example of Haiti, where some preliminary exchanges with Cuba have taken place.

The U.S. government notes that steps have been taken to make it easier to trade with Cuba, despite the apparent stalemate in this sector.

Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Ministry of Foreign Relations director general for the United States), recently told reporters that results in the economic-commercial sphere are barely visible.

Many of the measures implemented so far in this field are positive but are limited in scope. They also include elements that make their implementation impossible.

She noted that Obama could allow Cuba to use the dollar in international transactions, access private credit and permit trade in both directions, and not unilaterally as has been the case to date, in order to facilitate the implementation of the approved measures to date.

While Congress is the only body that can completely eliminate the blockade, the obstacle to the development of relations, Obama has broad executive powers to change the majority of its application.

So far, Obama has only used these powers to modify a small area of policy, mainly in terms of remittances, the private sector and telecommunications, leaving the bulk of the blockade policy intact.

Various analysts agree that these sectors are prioritized by the U.S .government with obvious political purposes.

The White House text does not mention any of the key issues that Cuba considers essential for normalization, such as the return of the territory illegally occupied in Guantánamo, an end to subversive programs and illegal broadcasting, as well as the persistence of a preferential migratory policy towards Cubans that encourages illegal migration.

The fact sheet highlights the increasing number of “people to people” exchanges in the past year.

“U.S. travel to Cuba has increased by 54 percent over the past year. Americans are interacting with Cubans of all walks of life, giving Cubans a more accurate understanding of our country and how we live,” the text reads, ignoring the fact that U.S. citizens are still unable to travel to the island as tourists.

The text goes on to note the U.S. support for “the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC which have been hosted by the Cuban government in Havana.”

The document concludes that “Change will not happen overnight, but we are moving in the right direction. We will continue to pursue increased engagement between the United States and Cuba. We continue to believe that the legislatively-imposed U.S. embargo on Cuba is counter-productive and should be lifted.”


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