HAVANA – (Associated Press) The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left Cuban President Raul Castro’s government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country’s struggling economy.
Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama’s surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the communist-led country.
“One can’t think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in,” Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, said after the end of the talks. “Changes in Cuba aren’t negotiable.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba is seeking more answers about Obama’s dramatic of loosening the half-century-long trade embargo.
“I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what possibilities are going to open up,” Vidal said.
Obama also launched a review of Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said “it will be difficult to conceive of the re-establishment of relations” while Cuba remains on that list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.
Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren’t affected by Obama’s executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a ban on routine tourism to Cuba.
She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S. fugitives granted asylum in Cuba.
Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.
“We’ve seen so much, really so much more than what we’re used to, about very sensitive topics in our country,” said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old retired state worker. Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson’s press conference.
“It’s good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of the head of the Interests Section,” Rivero said. “But I think they should explain much more so that the whole population really understands what’s going on.”
Editor’s Note: Josefina Vidal is a career Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer. Her identity has been corroborated by both US and former Cuban intelligence personnel.