Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cuba's Detente Assessment

Tough and Frank
       Josefina Vidal, Cuba's no-nonsense Minister of North American Affairs, spent a long day yesterday -- Monday, May 16th -- interacting with a U. S. delegation in Havana and then updating U.S.-Cuban relations at the insightful news conference depicted above. {The photos are courtesy of Ismael Francisco}. Cuba was hosting the 3rd round of the U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission that is designed to assess the efforts of the two nations to normalize relations that have been severely strained since the 1950s but remarkably softened by President Obama's peaceful overtures. Vidal summarized the sometimes heated session with the U. S. State Department's Kristie Kenney as, "A productive meeting." She praised the advances in travel, telecommunications and "other economic spheres" but was quick to add sternly: "The blockade remains in force; there is still no normal banking between the U. S. and Cuba; and U. S. taxpayers, unwittingly I reckon, are still paying dearly to fund special financial incentives for Cubans to defect and special financial incentives that continue to make millionaires and billionaires out of selected Cubans while ignoring, maybe, much better uses of all that money on worthy U. S. projects. If Americans don't understand the fallacy of Wet Foot/Dry Foot, financing useless propaganda schemes like Radio-TV Marti in Miami just to make Cuban-Americans rich, and other such things, I think it might be because their democracy needs a little more, uh, uh, transparency."
        But Vidal, shown here listening to a question that didn't particularly please her, made it plain that "We have a long way to go towards normalizing relations." She reminded the questioner that "In the last six months two U. S. and one French company have been fined for doing minor business with Cuba. That reminds me of the original intent of the blockade dating back to 1962, which was to starve Cuba into capitulating to foreign dictation, even while it also punishes America's best allies and smears the United States' image."
        Vidal yesterday applauded "President Obama's fair-minded decency that has replaced so much animosity towards Cuba," but she stressed that "The minority in Miami and in Congress that still dictate so much of the U. S. policy regarding Cuba must be checked by the majority views in Miami, Congress and the world. After all, the U. S. is a democracy that also should view Cuba with democratic principles too." In that regard, Vidal said, "We want and need normal relations with the United States and most Americans and Cuban-Americans want it too. But, despite the progress during the decent Obama administration, there is more the U. S. must do, like ending the blockade and returning Guantanamo Bay to us, and more the U. S. must stop doing, like funding dissidents on the island. If the U. S. is willing to discuss those things sincerely, we will discuss any U. S. grievances just as sincerely. But sacrificing Cuban sovereignty is one thing I will never, ever discuss!"
         Yesterday's Vidal news conference in Havana was well attended by U. S. and Cuban journalists. It reminded Vidal that, "If the American people are told the truth and provided the details of U.S.-Cuban relations, I trust they will engage more than they have in the past. It is important to them although Cuba is an island, just one nearby nation. Cubans have suffered from the hostility but so have many Americans, plus America's scarred image. Americans need to, I believe, respond to the near unanimity of world opinion regarding the U. S. policy towards Cuba. The U. S. should respond to world and, especially, regional opinion and eliminate its grossly unfair migration policies for Cubans known derisively as Wet Foot/Dry Foot. How does the U. S. have the gall to criticize discrimination in other nations when it so flagrantly discriminates with its own policies."
       Before she exited yesterday's news conference in Havana, a very tired Josefina Vidal had summed up the current status of U.S.-Cuban relations with these words: "We have made significant steps toward greater cooperation in environment protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, and educational and cultural exchanges. More, of course, needs to be done in those areas and much more needs to be done concerning the embargo, Guantanamo Bay, and a foreign nation supporting and creating dissidents in another country. As you can see, there is a long list of topics. But I think the important thing, with Obama in Washington, is that we have now put these issues on the table for discussion. I reiterate my appreciation for President Obama's concern for the Cuban people and I hope he and his team understand that our major concern is also what is best for the Cuban people as a whole, not just for a selected few."
Josefina Vidal. 
       Jose Ramon Cabanas, Cuba's Ambassador at the newly opened Cuban Embassy in Washington, also held a news conference in Havana yesterday to assess the progress of U.S.-Cuban relations. He said, "There has been, I believe, substantial progress and I hope we can continue on that very honorable path." 
And by the way:
       Alejandro Mayorkas is a Cuban-born American lawyer who was born in Havana in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution defeated the Batista-Mafia dictatorship. Mr. Mayorkas will be back in Havana today -- Tuesday, May 17, 2016 -- as America's important Deputy Homeland Security Secretary. He will hold meetings with Cuban counterparts regarding cooperation "to continue fighting drug trafficking, illegal migration, and transnational crime." It's interesting he included "illegal migration" but he's certainly not at liberty to discuss the U. S. Wet Foot/Dry Foot law that relates to extremely discriminatory "legal migration" incentives that pertain to Cubans at the gross expense of every non-Cuban would-be immigrant in the entire world.
And, oh, yes:
      This AP/Fernando Medina photo shows Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez motoring past the famed Malecon seawall in a 1950s convertible as Cuban children race on foot to keep up. Vin and Michelle are the superstars of the "Fast & Furious" movie franchise that has earned billions of dollars worldwide, and "Fast & Furious 8" spent several weeks shooting in Cuba. The huge production, and especially the superstars who were atop the star-studded cast, brought excitement and money to Cuba. One of the cargo ships that dropped off tons of movie equipment in Havana had three Cuban Wet Foot, Dry Foot stowaways on its journey back to Port Everglades, Florida. Oh, well. Cuba is Cuba.
Michelle Rodriguez & Vin Diesel in Cuba.
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