2015: Cuba-U.S. normalisation’s challenge

Summary of Cuban policy in 2015 on the threshold of a key event in 2016, the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The thaw between Washington and Havana was the principal political event of the year in the Caribbean archipelago and attracted greater international attention about Cuba.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños_IPS

In 2015 Cuba was at the centre of the news. Cuban diplomacy advanced in its talks with the United States to restore bilateral ties after more than half a century of conflict, while it negotiated with the European Union a political and cooperation dialogue agreement. President Raúl Castro was warmly embraced by Latin America at the Panama Summit of the Americas, the first the Caribbean island was able to attend, was the host to Pope Francis and travelled to New York where he took advantage of his four-day stay to meet for the second time with his U.S. colleague Barack Obama.

 

In the domestic sphere, the 10th plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) confirmed at an early date such as February 23 the holding of the 7th Congress of the PCC on April 16, 2016. However, the preparations for the eventduring the year had a rather discrete coverage in the official press. Public or not, the complaints about the scarce information and absence of space for open debates about the issues to be discussed at the Party meeting increased as the date for its holding approached.

 

Six months away from the next Party meeting, in April 2016, “we are still not seeing signs of an indispensable national discussion and with an integral focus about the future of the socialist system in the country,” warned political scientist Darío Machado in the capital’s Cuba Pavilion during a forumto assess the significance and validity of a speech given by leader Fidel Castro on November 17, 2005 at the University of Havana.

 

Blogger and journalist Francisco Rodríguez even wrote an open letter to President Raúl Castro, PCC first secretary, and requested that the meeting be put off until July in order to have April and May to “discuss the main documents of the Congress with all Party members, and also with the rest of the Cuban population. The month of June would still remain to process, study, improve and incorporate proposals.”

 

The documents subject to the analysis and approval of the 7th Congress include:

– Conceptualisation of the Cuban Social Economic Model of Socialist Development.

– Report of the “Economic and Social Development Programme until 2030. Proposal of Vision of the Nation, Strategic Themes, Strategic Objectives and Sectors.”

– Assessment of the results of the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution approved by the 6th Congress in April 2011, as well as their updating for the next period. According to the official daily Granma, in these five years 21 per cent of the 313 Guidelines have been implemented and 77 per cent are in the process. The remaining two per cent (five guidelines) have not been carried out due to diverse reasons.

– Assessment of the First National Conference of the Party held in 2012.

 

The ongoing thaweeuu-cuba_G4G9966-copy

 

To say that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba put the Caribbean country “in fashion” soon became common place a thousand times repeated during 2015.

 

But the truth of this affirmation is confirmed with the more than three million tourists with which the tourist industry closed the year, the numerous official or non-official visits from the United States and the great interest of the media focused on the normalisation of relations between the two nations divided by more than half a century of conflict. Neither is it possible to question that the thaw between Washington and Havana remained being the principal political event of the year on the island, beyond the many questions and uncertainties of its people.

 

On the first anniversary of the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations on December 17, Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama made their assessment of the process of normalisation that, according to Cuba, will not be complete without the end of the blockade and the return of the territory occupied by the U.S. naval base in the eastern province of Guantánamo. In any case, analysts agree that the novelty of the path taken with the restoration of ties is that the Cuban government accepted to start without demanding the prior elimination of the blockade. Only Congress can abolish the embargo and experts consider it very difficult that this can happen before the U.S. presidential elections in November 2016. Obama opted for using his presidential prerogatives to ease the impact of the prohibitions and Castro, according to analysts, would have bet on waiting for it to drain, perhaps in his style: slow, but nonstop. In another important measure and very demanded by the Cuban government, the United States took Cuba off the list of states sponsoring terrorism on May 29. It’s still to be seen what cards President Obama has in his sleeve for his announced trip to the Caribbean nation.

New condemnation of blockadeOn October 27, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved with 191 votes in favour the Resolution that urges the United States to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba for more than half a century.

 

Direct talks

 

When Castro and Obama meet in Havana, they will shake hands for the fourth time after the unexpected greeting in South Africa in December 2013, where they coincided in the funeral service of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. The first meeting of both presidents took place on April 11, 2015, during a recess of the 7th Summit of the Americas. On that occasion they discussed in depth the thawing of 56 years of bitter conflict with a strong handshake at the inauguration, points in common in their respective speeches, an exchange of praises and a bilateral meeting, where they confirmed their decision to advance toward the normalisation of diplomatic relations, without abjuring their differences.

 

The second direct contact took place on September 29 in New York, where the Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the 70th period of session of the UN General Assembly took place. The latter was the first meeting in the United States of the presidents of both countries after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959. Before those talks, they had a telephone conversation about the process of normalisation of relations and the visit to Cuba of Pope Francis. On that occasion, they recognised the Supreme Pontiff’s contribution to the start of a new stage in relations between the two countries.

 

obama-629x418-engIn his speech for the first year of the announcement to restore relations, Obama warned that the normalisation of bilateral ties will be a long trip and the differences with the Cuban government will continue, but, he added, we discussed directly those issues and will always defend the human rights and universal values that we support in the entire world. The president also highlighted that since the 12 months of the announcement of the decision to resume diplomatic relations both countries have advanced in their common interests and are working together on complex issues that divided them for a long time.

 

Meanwhile, Castro highlighted among the results of the thaw, until then, the signing of the agreements on the protection of the environment and the reestablishment of direct postal service, the already existing cooperation on issues of interest like the struggle against drug trafficking, illegal emigration, the trafficking in emigrants and migratory fraud. He also underlined the start of talks on matters of bilateral and multilateral interest, like climate change, mutual compensations, the trafficking in persons and human rights, the latter being an issue that concentrates “profound differences” between both nations.

 

Regulations to ease the embargo

 

Obama’s first measures were approved on January 15, way before the resumption of diplomatic ties became official and the reopening of embassies (on July 20 the Cuban embassy was opened and the U.S. embassy on August 14). According to the new regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and of Commerce, which came into force on January 16, U.S. companies can export cell phones, TV sets, flash drives, recorders, computers and software to Cuba, while the U.S. citizens authorised to travel to the Caribbean island for family reasons, official matters, journalism, research, education, religious activities or other reasons can do so with a general permit, without the need for a special license. The expansion of the annual limit of family remittances to Cuba from 2,000 to 8,000 dollars was especially well received.

 

On September 18, the U.S. administration announced a second package of regulations to expand trade, trips and the participation of U.S. companies on the island getting around the embargo restrictions. The regulations are collected in a 27-page document drawn up by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. According to the Cuba-U.S. Economic Council, it is about the most in-depth changes in terms of trade and investments between the U.S. and Cuba in decades. On this occasion the limit in the amount of remittances was eliminated, a decision with a direct impact on a great deal of the Cuban population that receives family aid from the northern country.

 

The talks

 

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

The talks to re-establish diplomatic relations began on January 21 and 22, 2015, with the migratory issue and the preparation of the roadmap for the historic thaw. The first day was devoted to reviewing the fulfilment of the migratory agreements of 1994 and 1995 and the actions in the struggle against illegal emigration and the trafficking in persons carried out by both countries. On the second day, the two nations’ delegations started clearing the obstacles for the reopening of embassies and the normalisation of relations.

 

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere AffairsRoberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, director of the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, headed the different meetings carried out for this, in an alternate way in Havana and Washington.

 

This stage ended with the official reestablishment of diplomatic ties and the reopening of the respective embassies. But the talks on issues to normalise relations continued through the binational commission announced in a joint press conference at the end of the reopening of the U.S. diplomatic venue in Havana, between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. That joint commission held its first meeting on September 11 in Havana to define immediate issues to be discussed in the process of normalisation of bilateral relations. The Cuban delegation in this stage of talks continued being headed by Josefina Vidal, general director for the United States of the Foreign Ministry, but the U.S. side was headed by U.S. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee.

Human rights, the centre of conflictsThe subject of human rights and their opposite focuses in Havana and Washington have been the reason for strong bilateral confrontations in international agencies in charge of the issue. However, it figured among the first matters in the bilaterally discussions and parallel to the talks to make official the restoration of diplomatic ties. Delegations from the two countries met with this objective on March 31, 2015 in Washington. According to Cuban sources, during the meeting it was ratified that there are differences between both countries when dealing with the subject of human rights, from the national point of view or how human rights are protected and promoted in the respective countriesas well as their treatment in multilateral forums on these issues. Cuba’s official delegation was headed by Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, general assistant director of Multilateral Affairs and International Law of the Foreign Ministry, and the U.S. delegation by Department of State Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour Tom Malinowski.

 

The delegations defined the subjects to be dealt with in the subsequent months:

  • Establishment of cooperation mechanisms in new areas of mutual benefit, like the protection of the environment and the prevention of natural disasters, health, civil aviation and the application and achievement of the law, including the struggle against drug trafficking and of persons and transnational crimes.
  • Development of the talks on matters of bilateral interest, including those in which the two countries have different conceptions, like the trafficking in persons and human rights, as well as others of a multilateral character, like climate change and the struggle against epidemics, pandemics and other threats to world health.
  • The search for the solution to pending problems in bilateral relations, like the compensations for U.S. properties nationalised in Cuba and for the human and economic damages caused to the Cuban people by the policies applied by the different U.S. administrations throughout more than 50 years.
  • Protection of trademarks and patents.

 

Cuba-EU dialogue

 

The second meeting of the bilateral commission was held in Washington on November 11. In Havana, Gustavo Machín, assistant general director for the United States of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said in statements to a small group of journalists that:

  • The Department of State reported in a short official note that in the meeting the two delegations were able to review the progress in the common priorities including regulatory matters, telecommunications, demands for compensations, protection of the environment, trafficking in persons and human rights, among others. The possible signing in the short term of agreements on the reestablishment of regular flights and postal service between both countries, protection of the environment and the struggle against drug trafficking.
  • Agreement to continue the talks on human rights initiated in Washington in March.
  • Assessment of the exchanges held in matters related to maritime-port security, application and achievement of the law, and climate change.
  • Programming of talks on the migratory issue and the trafficking in persons.
  • Possibility of expanding collaboration to other areas, like health, the struggle against epidemics and infectious diseases.

The third meeting of the bilateral commission was previewed for early 2016.

With its sights set on Brussels and Washington, Cuba closed the parenthesis in its talks with the European Union (EU) for a cooperation agreement and decided to advance in the dialogue with that bloc, parallel to the talks to normalise relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility. While all eyes were glued on the process initiated after the announced reestablishment of Cuban-U.S, diplomatic relations, Brussels and Havana agreed to carry out on March 4 and 5 their third round of talks initiated in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital. “At first we thought we had lost a bit of priority, now the message is that that is not the case, that the Cuban State wants to maintain a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador to Havana, Herman Portocarrero, said to IPS.

 

The agreement, which at the end of 2015 was already in the tuning stage for its possible signing in 2016, includes chapters on political dialogue (with issues like governance, human rights and security), cooperation (which covers the labour area, culture, education, health and agriculture, among others), trade and economic relations. In addition it must provide a more solid framework for the constructive dialogue and the improvement of cooperation between Cuba and the EU. The talks were held in an alternate way in Havana and Brussels, between delegations headed by Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno and Christian Leffler, director for the Americas of the European Foreign Action Service. According to European Community sources, human rights will remain at the core of relations between Cuba and the EU.

Talks during 2015

  • Havana, March 4 and 5. Third round of talks.
  • Brussels, June 15 and 16. Fourth round of talks.
  • Havana, September 8 and 10. Fifth round of talks.
  • Brussels, December 1 and 2. Sixth round of talks.

More details in:

 

The agreement would close a period of complicated relations between Brussels and Havana since the EU adopted the so-called “Common Position,” a unilateral political instrument in force since 1996 which conditions cooperation with Cuba to advances on the island in matters of human rights and individual freedoms. At the end of the fifth round of talks, in a press conference Leffler defined the European common position as a “point of reference.” Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a framework cooperation agreement with the EU, though in the last seven years it has signed bilateral agreements with at least 15 of the 28 countries that today make up the European bloc. According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro expects that stable relations and protected by a framework agreement like the one being sought with the bloc of 28 countries will help improve business, but also the diversification of its economic and commercial relations in the face of the perspective that the normalisation with the United States derives in the elimination of the embargo. Portocarrero is of the opinion that Cuba’s relations with its northern neighbour will speed up all the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that everything is not monopolised through the United States they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Common PositionSubject to six-monthly assessments, the Common Position proposes among other objectives “to promote the process of transition toward democratic pluralism and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba, as well as the lasting increase and improvement of the standard of living of the Cuban people.”

 

Third papal visit to Cuba

 

Francis I, the first Latin American pope in history and the third to visit Cuba in 17 years, is considered a key figure in the process of normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, to which he travelled after being hosted by Raúl Castro from September 19 to 22. During his stay he officiated masses in Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba.papa_0445-copy

 

Before his arrival, the Cuban government announced on September 11 the pardon of 3,522 inmates, whose release began the following day. A similar gesture preceded the visits of John Paul II in January 1998, when close to 300 inmates were released, and Benedict XVI in March 2012, when his grace favoured some 2,991 prisoners.

 

The visit by the Supreme Pontiff was happily welcomed by the Cuban population and increased the Catholic Church’s leading role in this country. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, attributed the popular empathy generated by Francis to his being Latin American, Spanish speaking, having an extensive visibility in the Cuban media since his election, his impacting statements and messages, and having had a “very special intervention in relations between Cuba and the United States.”

 

The Pope gave his first mass on the morning of September 20 in Revolution Square, after which he had a “familiar meeting” with former President Fidel Castro, his wife Dalia Soto and the children and grandchildren of the revolutionary leader. The meeting lasted “some 40 minutes,” during which they talked about informal matters and exchanged books. In the evening he was received by Raúl Castro in the Palace of the Revolution, where he greeted the guest delegations. Later he visited Havana Cathedral, participated in the Vesper Prayers together with the priests, nuns, seminarians and greeted the young people and cloister of the Father Félix Varela Cultural Centre.

 

On September 21 he travelled to the eastern city of Holguín, the shortest stopover of his trip to Cuba, where he gave a Holy Mass in CalixtoGarcía Revolution Square, had a private lunch and visited the Loma de la Cruz, from where he blessed the city. He then left for the last point of his trip, Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second most important city. There he stayed in the former San BasilioMagno Seminary, where he held a private meeting with the bishops, to then travel to the Basilica Minor of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre National Sanctuary. There he gave his last mass in Cuba, on September 22. Afterwards he visited the recently restored Santiago de Cuba Cathedral, held a meeting with Cuban families and blessed the 500 year-old city.

 

During his stay, Francis abounded in his calls for reconciliation, solidarity and accompaniment in a wide-ranging sense.

– “The world needs reconciliation in this atmosphere of third world war by stages we are living,” he said on his arrival on Saturday the 19th, in a brief speech in which he urged the “responsible politicians” of Cuba and the United States to “develop all their potentials as proof of the high service they are called upon to provide in favour of peace.”

– On Sunday the 20th, in a message read at the end of the multitudinous mass in Revolution Square he referred to “the crucial importance” of the peace efforts being carried out in Colombia and “even in this beautiful island, for definitive reconciliation,” a path in which, he underlined, “we do not have the right to again allow ourselves to fail.”

– He thanked his host, President Raúl Castro, present during the liturgical ceremony, “for everything he does in this work of reconciliation,” in an added written text.

– “We want to be a church that leaves home to build bridges, bring down walls, grow reconciliation,” he repeated before leaving the island.

 

The Supreme Pontiff left for the United States from Antonio Maceo International Airport, where he was seen off by President Raúl Castro, who undid himself in attentions toward his guest and accompanied him in his three religious ceremonies.

 

New migratory crisis

 

The migratory subject, which for decades was the only one that sat the United States and Cuba at the negotiation table, opened on January 21 the first talks to negotiate the opening of relations between the neighbouring countries. The talks to normalise the ties coincided with the six-monthly round of talks held alternately in the capitals of the two countries to review the march of the migratory agreements of 1994 and 1995.

 

Cuban community in the United StatesWhile not the only one, the United States is the principal receiver of Cuban emigration. It is estimated that at present two million Cuban immigrants and their descendants reside in that country. Of these, 1.1 million (57%) were born in Cuba and 851,000 in the United States. Cuban immigrants constitute 3.7 per cent of all the Latin Americans living in the United States.Source: Reports and studies updated in 2013 by the U.S. Census Bureau and analysed in studies carried out by specialists of the PewHispanicResearch Center.

The second round of talks in 2015 was held in Washington on November 30 and coincided with the serious crisis of thousands of emigrants of Cuban nationality who were stranded in Costa Rica since mid-November, prevented from continuing to the United States. The travellers were trying to be protected by the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act and the policy known as “dry feet and wet feet,” which grants automatic residency to citizens from the island arriving to U.S. territory. Cuba reiterates unsuccessfully at all the migratory talks with Washington its demand for the cessation of those regulations that, in its opinion, encourage irregular emigration.

 

The Cuban emigrants started to accumulate on the south border of Costa Rica after on November 10 that country detained members of a network of traffickers in persons. The Costa Rican authorities issued safe-conducts valid for seven days to regulate the passage of the immigrants toward Nicaragua, but this country closed its border completely on November 15 and blocked the passage of the Cubans when it reopened it the following day.

 

On November 17 the Cuban Foreign Ministry specified in a communiqué that the Cuban citizens who have been arriving in Costa Rica from other countries in the region with the intention of traveling to the United States left Cuba legally for different Latin American countries, complying with all the requisites established by the Cuban migratory regulations. It added that the Cuban authorities have been in constant contact with the governments of the implicated countries with the aim of finding a fast and adequate solution that takes into consideration the wellbeing of the Cuban citizens.

 

Cientos de cubanos se congregaron frente a la embajada de Ecuador en La Habana en una inusual exhibición pública de descontento, por la nueva regla del gobierno de Ecuador que pide visa a los cubanos para visitar el país sudamericano, en La HabanaOn November 28, several dozen persons gathered in front of the Ecuadoran embassy in Havana unsatisfied with the new rule of the Ecuadoran government of demanding from Cuban citizens that, starting December 1, they have a visa to enter that country. From Ecuador, on their route to the United States, the Cuban migrants cross Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and other Central American countries to later enter Mexico and arrive at the border of their destination.

 

On December 7 the Cuban government put into force Decree 306, approved on October 11, 2012, which regulates the exit abroad of health workers, a regulation that caused the discontent of the professionals of a sector that contributes some eight billion dollars a year for services provided to third countries. The migratory crisis was on the agenda of Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís on his visit to Cuba from December 13 to 15, during which he met with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

 

On December 18, the Costa Rican government stopped issuing special transit visas for Cuban migrants and announced that after that date anyone who arrived without documents to remain in its territory would be detained and deported to the island. A few days later, the migratory authorities announced they had initiated the procedures for the deportation of at least 56 Cubans who entered after that date.

 

By the end of December, the number of Cuban migrants stranded in border zone of Costa Rica amounted to 8,000 and some 1,000 in Panama. In a meeting between representatives of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, as well as leaders from the International Organisation for Migrations, it was resolved to open an “exceptional, safe and organised passage” for the Cuban immigrants. According to what was decided at the emergency meeting, they would first travel by air to El Salvador, from where they would be transferred on bus to Mexico. Once there, the U.S. authorities would allow them to enter by virtue of the migratory law known as “dry feet/wet feet.” The plan took off on January 12, 2016.

Emigration to U.S. increasesIn the last three months of 2015, a total of 4,573 Cuban immigrants arrived in the United States. The border with Laredo and the very Miami Airport were the principal ports of entry to the United States between October and December 2015. In the fiscal year 2015, between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015, another 40,965 arrived, double the amount of those who arrived in the previous fiscal year.Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service.

 

Opposition

 

January 23. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson met in Havana with Cuban dissidents. Among the participants were opposition members José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sánchez, HéctorMaseda, Guillermo Fariñas, Marta Beatriz Roque, Antonio González-Rodiles and Miriam Leiva. One of those absent was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who explained that she decided to not participate because she disagreed with the lack of “diversity” of opinions on the list of guests.

 

April 19. Two opposition members are elected in their respective barrios as candidates to delegates to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power did not get the necessary votes for those posts. HildebrandoChaviano, a 65-year-old jurist member of the group of independent lawyers CorrienteAgramontista, and computer scientist YunielLópez, 26 years old and a member of the illegal Independent and Democratic Cuba Party, obtained 138 and 233 votes in the elections in their districts.

 

August 10. Some 20 opposition members meet in Havana in the Democratic Action Unity Table (MUAD). The coalition aims to “work in a new context in which talks and diplomacy are revealed as the tools par excellence for the peaceful and civilised resolution of conflicts.”

 

The initiative includes organisations in and outside Cuba like the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), led by former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer, the United Anti-Totalitarian Front of dissident Guillermo Fariñas or the #Cuba Decide platform promoted by Rosa MaríaPayá, in addition to independent journalists and intellectuals like artist Tania Bruguera. Manuel Cuesta Morúa, from Arco Progresista, says that the MUAD wants “to go beyond the debate” about Cuba’s new relations with the United States and the European Union to “assume that new reality and work in it to strengthen a change toward a participatory and citizen democracy.”

 

August 13-15. The first Cuban National Meeting is held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twenty-three organisations from the archipelago and 32 from the exile participated. The event is organised by United Cubans of Puerto Rico.

 

August 14. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry receives in Havana a group of opposition members, though all those who had been invited do not come. Those attending were former prisoners HéctorMaseda, Marta Beatriz Roque, ÓscarElíasBiscet and José Daniel Ferrer, in addition to blogger Yoani Sánchez and her husband, independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar; Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of the Ladies in White; Manuel Cuesta Morúa, of Arco Progresista; and Catholic intellectual and criticDagoberto Valdés. Those who abstained were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, and Antonio González Rodiles, director of the critical forum Estado de Sats. Both expressed malaise for not having been invited on this date to the official ceremony for the opening of the embassy.

 

October 26.Eliecer Avila, of the opposition Somos+, refuses to participate in the initiative #TodosMarchamos, promoted by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (FDyL) – made up by different opposition groups -, because, he affirmed, “I don’t march with the corrupt, immoral people whom the people of Cuba do not support.”

 

December 28. The opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba launches the campaign Otro18, an initiative that collects citizens’ proposals for new electoral laws, of association and of political parties.

 

A favourable environment

 

Hollande-Francia_1-copyIn 2015 President Raúl Castro reaped many diplomatic successes which would have an impact in 2016. In his own words, in that year the bilateral political dialogue was strengthened with numerous countries, proof of which is the visit to Cuba of 184 foreign delegations, of which 25 were headed by Heads of State or Government from all the regions of the world. Just from Europe, the government of Raúl Castro received in 2015 French President Francois Hollande, the foreign ministers of Germany, Spain, France, Holland and Italy. Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida visited the country April 30-May 3 accompanied by some 30 Japanese businesspeople.

 

Hollande’s official visit on May 11 has especial relevance. His agenda included a meeting with the historic leader Fidel Castro. The French president’s stay was preceded by a European tour by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. Starting April 20 the head of Cuban diplomacy toured France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and in Brussels headed the delegation of his country to the 6th Session of High-Level Political Dialogue between the European Union and Cuba. A key result of this good work wasan agreement with the Paris Club, achieved at the close of the year, which gives a breath of air to the financial situation and improves the credibility of the country.

 

On January 26 Raúl Castro travels to Costa Rica to attend the 3rd Summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), held January 28 and 29 in that nation. On April 10 and 11 he participates in the 7th Summit of the Americas held in Panama.

 

On May 3 he arrives in Algeria for a three-day stay in a tour he continued in Russia, where on May 9 he attended, in Red Square, the military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. He meets with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin.

 

On November 7 he visits Mexico on a trip that supposes the re-launching of bilateral relations. On November 24 he arrives in New York for a four-day stay during which he attends the Summit on Sustainable Development in the United Nations and the commemoration of this organisation’s 70th anniversary. Castro again met with French President Francois Hollande and held a second official meeting with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. He was also received by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in New York and talked with the mayor of that city, Bill de Blasio.

 

An obviously favourable environment, but the new year arrived with more questions than answers about the future of Cuba. The normalisation of diplomatic relations with the United States pleases many and others not so much, concerned about the risks implied in having the “(ideological) enemy at home.” The 7th Congress of the PCC should calm those and other political, social and economic concerns that make a great deal of the Cuban population lose sleep. (2016)

 

More links:

Cuba oficializasudeshielo con EstadosUnidos con normalidad

Visita de Kerry a Cuba reconfiguranexos con América Latina

De Punta del Este a Panamá, El fin de la exclusión a Cuba

Deshielo con EE.UU. espoleainterés de inversorespor Cuba

Cuba dialoga con EE.UU y la UE y liberapresosporvisitadel papa

 

 

 

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