Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cuba will not accept any Obama preconditions for dialogue

U.S. News and World Report

Cuban Official Rules Out Any Obama Preconditions for Improved Relations

By Thomas Omestad

Posted March 10, 2009

HAVANA—Cuba's government wants dialogue with the United States and is waiting to see what policy changes will emerge from the Obama administration, but Cuba will not accept any U.S. preconditions, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official in Havana.

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama said that he would remove restrictions on travel to Cuba by Cuban-Americans and on their remittances to family members on the island and that he favored "direct" diplomacy with Cuban officials. But he also said that he would not end the 47-year-old embargo at the outset of his administration because the trade sanctions provide "leverage" to encourage the Communist government in Cuba to take steps toward democracy.

In an interview with U.S. News, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, director of the North America division of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, ruled out undertaking political changes in exchange for improved ties with the United States, calling such a proposition "a nonstarter."

She added, "What I see there is the same mistake previous administrations have made" by attempting to place conditions on Cuba.

The position Vidal outlined suggests that future Cuba policy under the Obama administration could face significant obstacles—despite high expectations for change in both Cuba and the United States.

Vidal noted the earlier Obama statements about lifting restrictions on Cuban-Americans and said, "I would consider that a positive step.... It would be positive—positive to these families." However, she stressed that such actions would in essence simply roll back steps by the Bush administration—-"what he will do is to rectify a wrong policy that Bush adopted."

Vidal said that Cuban officials have "very limited information" as to what President Obama will do and that the new administration "has not been very detailed about what kind of policy" it will have. She added, "So far, nothing has changed."

Vidal focused her strongest criticism on the Bush administration, which tightened the U.S. embargo on Cuba in several ways. "We have all suffered from the Bush legacy," she said. "It tried almost everything to reach its goal of regime change in Cuba."

Vidal said that Cuba would like to see the U.S. government stop funding TV Martí and Radio Martí, broadcast outlets that, she said, "we have been very successful in blocking."

She argued that the U.S. embargo policy had backfired. She noted that the European Union recently restored normal relations and restarted a full dialogue with Cuba after having applied sanctions in 2003.

As for the Obama administration, Vidal said that "Cuba is ready" for a dialogue in the manner that Cuban President Raúl Castro has outlined: "gesture for gesture."

Cuba, Vidal said, needs "to be treated as an equal, to be treated as a sovereign, independent country." She added, "Cuba is waiting for the United States to rectify its policy toward Cuba. . . . Cuba is serious and could be a very serious partner of the United States."

The interview took place before last week's government shakeup in Havana. Cuba's long-serving foreign minister and a key vice president were forced to resign in a move that pushed aside two figures often regarded as potential successors to Raúl Castro.

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JG: There is nothing wrong about Obama expressing his opinions. But, he has no right to tell the Cubans how to run their own internal affairs.

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