Senior Cuban diplomat: “We will have to” negotiate with the United States
NEW YORK — Cuba’s top diplomat said Tuesday that his country’s officials had no choice but to engage the United States in negotiations to normalize relations, despite a decade of diplomatic and of mixed messages from Washington.
In an interview with The Hill, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla responded to a question posed by former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes about whether Cuban officials “would ever, ever negotiate what whether with America after that?”
“We will have to do it,” said Rodríguez Parrilla, who was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
“We will have to do this, first, because there is a historical trend which, at some point, will force us to restore dialogue and lift the blockade.”
After a historic and controversial push to normalize relations between Washington and Havana under former President Obama, the Trump administration has done an about-face, including adding Cuba to a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Biden administration, while less hawkish than the Trump administration, has not taken major steps to normalize relations, including keeping Cuba on the terrorism watch list.
“We should not expect President Biden to revert to President Obama’s policies. One would have expected President Biden to implement his own policy, adjusted to his electoral platform, to his commitments with his constituents, to the current reality of the international situation,” said Rodríguez Parrilla.
“What has been an unfortunate surprise is that President Biden continues to pursue, precisely, the adverse, abusive, failed policies that bring the United States no closer to any outcome. [inherited from] President Trump, who is [Biden’s] political antipode,” he added.
Yet the Biden administration has relaxed some of its predecessor’s Cuba policies, often despite domestic political pressure.
“President Biden’s policy toward Cuba is rooted in supporting the Cuban people and protecting human rights. Our approach to Cuba, like any other country, takes into account various current political, economic and security factors. Over the past few years, conditions in Cuba and the region have changed, and we have adapted our Cuba policy accordingly,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Hill.
In May, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (DN.J.) rejected an announcement by the Biden administration that some travel restrictions to the island were being lifted, while celebrating the revival of Cuba’s parole program for family reunification, which streamlines legal immigration. for Cubans with family in the United States.
“I am appalled to learn that the Biden administration will begin allowing group travel to Cuba through tourism-like tours. To be clear, those who still believe that increased travel will spawn democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. For decades the world has traveled to Cuba and nothing has changed,” said Menendez, the highest ranking Cuban-American in the history of the United States Congress.
The Biden administration also announced that the US consulate in Havana would resume processing migrant visas in 2023, and in May announced an easing of restrictions on remittances – money sent by US residents to friends and relatives on the island.
“I think it was positive, this announcement made in May by the current US government to restore the regular flow of remittances,” said Rodríguez Parrilla.
“However, this announcement did not materialize into a concrete decision, and it is still not happening. One should ask why,” he added.
A White House representative did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Rodríguez Parrilla is the most senior Cuban official – other than Fidel Castro in 1959 – to have visited Washington since the Cuban Revolution and even during Rodríguez Parrilla’s lifetime.
The foreign secretary was in Washington in 2015 to reopen the Cuban embassy, one of the greatest symbolic gestures of the period of rapprochement under the Obama administration.
While these milestones seem frozen in the past for now, Cuba and the United States are collaborating on a series of important, albeit technical, issues.
For example, Cuba quickly opened its airports to flights stranded in the air during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the island often allowed US military storm fighter jets into its airspace for hurricane research and the United States provided technical assistance to clean up after a fire at a supertanker facility in Matanzas in August.
“There is a cooperation agreement on environmental issues, including search and rescue, common waters, which passed a test of adversity with the previous Republican government, but which remains in force,” Rodríguez Parrilla said.
Part of this collaboration is due to proximity and shared crises – Hurricane Ian hit Cuba’s western provinces before gaining momentum in the northern Gulf of Mexico and hitting Florida on Wednesday.
“It’s a very intense relationship. There is a deep cultural link between the two neighboring countries, there is also a common history. However, there are profound and totally asymmetrical differences,” said Rodríguez Parrilla.
“The policy of the US government, historically, since 1959, has been one of hostility and aggression. Its central element is the economic, commercial and financial blockade, which is the factor that decides the quality of the bilateral relationship,” he added.
While the Cuban embargo is a unilateral American policy, various national and international pressures fuel American hostility towards the Cuban communist regime.
Above all, the core of the Cuban diaspora in the United States is made up of people who fled the 1959 revolution and their descendants.
Three decades of Cuban alignment with the Soviet Union have reinforced a sense of enmity and incompatibility, building once seemingly insurmountable political barriers against rapprochement within the United States.
Cuba also retains essential elements of Soviet-style communism – including a political bureau of which Rodríguez Parrilla is a member – although its vibrant political system is much more open than the top-down autocracies of other existing communist regimes, such as North Korea.
And the island’s human rights record has been swept aside by actors across the political spectrum, including left-leaning groups like Human Rights Watch, which last year condemned a crackdown on protesting demonstrators. largely against economic conditions.
Yet Cuba’s poor human rights record is not exclusively one of repression.
On Sunday, Cuba held an open referendum for citizens to vote on a range of social reforms, including same-sex marriage and gender equality measures.
The proposal was overwhelmingly approved, with nearly 4 million votes in favor and nearly 2 million against. The results showed both a split with conservative attitudes associated with the old guard and a diversity of opinions on a major social issue.
“Tell me about any [other] country that has decided these subjects by referendum,” Rodríguez Parrilla said, referring to countries like the United States, Mexico and Colombia, where controversial but widely accepted social issues like same-sex marriage have been left to the courts. .
“And regardless, there are other countries that, through votes sometimes inevitably perceived as partisan, through the courts, determine what citizens must democratically determine directly by themselves, without mediators, as is the case for sexual and reproductive rights.
“Make the comparison… between the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on abortion and the submission to popular referendum of everything concerning this subject and others,” Rodríguez Parrilla said.
The Cuban diplomat’s understanding of the comparison between the country’s referendum on social issues and the abortion rights debate in the United States is characteristic of a political class that has carefully studied American politics for decades.
Cuban officials see this as an advantage they have over their American counterparts, who they say often caricature a complex political system as an old-fashioned, monolithic communist regime.
“With all due respect, the United States government is not a studious being at all,” Rodríguez Parrilla said.
“The criteria that have been put forth by one and all about American democracy over the past two years are very particular,” he said.
Yet Cuba’s stability is more in question today than at any time since at least the end of the Cold War, as internal and external economic and political difficulties mount for the island.
American hawks see an opportunity to push the 60-year-old embargo further in the hope that it will ultimately lead to the collapse of a recalcitrant communist system; doves see a risk of creating an unnecessary humanitarian crisis in a country that has shown some openness to reform.
Cuban officials say the ball to reopen talks is in the US court.
“We have this will. There is no doubt that the American government will have to demonstrate a similar will. And in the end we will have to judge based on tangible deeds,” said Rodríguez Parrilla.
“But it’s happened before. It’s happened once before, which proves it’s possible. And it’s proven it’s beneficial. I’m sure the historical trend leads to that – a policy that has failed for 60 years must be changed,” he added.