Havana has seen history being made this week, as senior officials from the U.S and Cuba began a series of meetings intended to initiate the process of restoring the links between the two nations. With its delegation led by Roberta Jacobson — the U.S Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs — the U.S team arriving in Cuba earlier this week was the highest ranking team to have done so in 35 years of international diplomacy. The U.S team are meeting with their Cuban counterparts — a group led by Director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry for North American Affairs Josefina Vidal — and topics up for discussion include immigration, embassies, and human rights issues in both countries.
The first day of discussion, Wednesday, January 21, was set for the issue of immigration, while Thursday’s meetings will revolve around the re-opening of embassies. Though talks began with an air of optimism, decades-old divisions between the two nations quickly became apparent, specifically with regard to immigration. The Washington Post reported that ahead of the talks, the U.S vowed to maintain its “wet foot/dry foot” policy with regard to Cuban citizens — whereby any immigrants stopped on water are turned back, but any that step foot on American soil are allowed to stay — in addition to its Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants special protections to Cuban citizens arriving in the United States. Cuba strongly objects to these policies, arguing that they encourage illegal immigration and constitute a “reprehensible brain drain.”
CBC reports that State Department official Alex Lee, who attended the immigration talks, outlined the U.S stance on the immigration of Cuban citizens.
“We explained to the Cuban government that our government is completely committed to upholding the Cuban Adjustment Act, [and] that the sets of migration-related policies that are colloquially known as wet foot/dry foot very much remain in effect.”
Despite the policy clash, the U.S State Department’s Alex Lee stated to BBC News that the outcome was positive.
“The productive and collaborative nature of today’s discussion proves that, despite clear differences that remain between our two countries, the United States and Cuba can find opportunities to advance our mutually shared interests.”
Those differences are the same differences that have blighted the relationship between the two countries for generations — namely the opposing political systems used. While America considers itself a beacon of democracy, Cuba maintains a single-party government. The Independent reports that an unidentified Cuban official has already ruled out any suggestion that the U.S should seek to manipulate the internal politics of Cuba in any way.
“[The U.S has taken] steps in the right direction, but there’s still far to go. [The relationship] must be based in principles of international law. What do these principles mean for Cuba? Reciprocal respect for each country’s political and economic systems, avoiding any form of interference.”
Several other issues will also be discussed, including the proposed removal of Cuba’s status as a sponsor of state terrorism. In addition, the Washington Post reports that President Obama intends to continue highlighting human rights issues inside Cuba, with Assistant Secretary Jacobson due to host an event for Cuban civil rights representatives, political dissidents, and human rights activists before she leaves the country on Friday. As a part of this particular dialogue, an unnamed senior official from Cuba is reported to have said his country would express their own “concerns” on American human rights issues, such as accusations of police brutality.
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