On the Cuban side, talks are all take and no give

Michael Putney in The Miami Herald:

On the Cuban side, talks are all take and no give


President Obama’s Cuba initiative represents, as Dr. Johnson said of second marriage, the triumph of hope over experience.

“We’ve been neighbors,” the president said in the White House Rose Garden, “now we can be friends.” Oh, if it were only that simple.

When it comes to Cuba, nothing is simple. And hasn’t been since Fidel and his barbudos marched triumphant out of the Sierra Maestra. Fidel is now 88 and frail. His revolution is 56 and was sputtering until Obama threw brother Raúl a life preserver. A revolution preserver, really, because the Cuban leader vows that nothing about Cuba’s socialist revolution will change. Except who the country’s sugar daddy is. The Soviet Union played that role for decades, then Venezuela until oil markets went kerplooey and now Cuba’s new benefactor, somewhat unbelievably, is us, the running dog Yankee imperialists.

Sec. of State John Kerry will travel to Havana later this month to raise the flag over the U.S. “Interests Section” and — shazam!— transform it into an embassy. Cuba will raise the flag over its stately headquarters in Washington, which has been spiffed up nicely, on July 20th. The Cubans are expected to name their ambassador quickly. Could it be Josefina Vidal, who was impressive as she led the Cuban side in the four negotiating sessions (that we know about) with U.S. diplomats over the last seven months?

But just how did those talks end with the embassy agreement just announced? We still don’t if several thorny issues were resolved. One is Cuba’s nasty habit of poking around in U.S. diplomatic pouches, a serious breach of security and diplomatic protocol. Another big issue: What will happen with the U.S. fugitives from justice like Joanne Chesimard and perhaps 70 others? And will Cuban police continue to harass Cubans who want to enter the U.S. embassy?

President Obama shed light on only one of the disputed issues, saying that U.S. diplomats will be able to move freely around the island to speak with dissidents or anyone else as long as they give the Castro government 24-hour notice. That’s progress on one important issue, but myriad details about the others remain unknown. Also unknown is exactly what constitutes “normalization,” plus our human rights demands.

“I think we lost the first round,” says James Cason, the Coral Gables mayor and retired U.S. career diplomat who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002-2005, “We made all the concessions and Havana made none. We don’t know what’s been gained in terms of normalization.”

Cason calls the embassy openings purely symbolic: “Nothing much will change on the ground.”

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