Friday, May 22, 2015

Talks To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations Between the US and Cuba

Talks To Re-establish Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Cuba

Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Washington, DC
May 22, 2015

12:30 P.M. EDT


ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for coming. As you know, the governments of the United States and Cuba have been holding discussions on the normalization of relations since December 17th, president – when President Obama changed directions in U.S. policy towards Cuba. President Obama and Castro agreed on the historic occasion to restore a relationship severed some 54 years ago, and to work towards the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and reopening of embassies in each other's countries. Since then, our governments have met regularly and have been in constant contact to define the conditions under which these embassies would operate. This has not been an easy task given our complicated history.

In the past two days, we met with Cuban officials to discuss the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. This round of talks was highly productive. We will persist, inspired by the conviction that engagement and not isolation are the keys to moving forward. We have made significant progress in the last five months and are much closer to reestablishing relations and reopening embassies. These are the first steps in the long process of normalization that will allow us to better represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people.

I am very thankful for our negotiating teams, including Director General Josefina Vidal and Jose Ramon Cabanas, Chief of Mission of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, who continue to work tirelessly to help move us forward.

Let me stop there and ask for some assistance. (In Spanish.)

Okay, thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for a couple of questions. Daniel Trotta, Reuters. The microphone is right here.

QUESTION: Thank you and good afternoon. Did you reach any kind of agreement on what constitutes interference in one's internal affairs under the Vienna Convention? Do you have any type of agreement with regard to the travel of diplomats in Cuba, with regard to the courses that are given at the U.S. Interests Section? And would the United States, on that level, be willing to coordinate those courses through the Cuban Government, for example, the education ministry or some other official government function? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I appreciate the question, and the fact is that we have agreed from the beginning – and this is where the conversations go – to use the Vienna Convention as the basis for our discussion of re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and that's the document that we're using. So we obviously discussed that. But I think the fact is that we're making progress in these areas, but as my colleague from Cuba said, I'm not going to really be specific about where we still have to close. We've gotten closer each time we talk, but we're still talking about various aspects of the functioning of an embassy. But we have gotten much closer than we were each time we talk. So that's really as far as I can go today in terms of specifics.

MODERATOR: Okay. Margaret Warner from PBS, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Are you still as optimistic as more than one senior official said before this last round, and if so, what is that based on, I mean, other than that the talks continue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Other than my congenitally sunny disposition?

QUESTION: Yes, other than that. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: I mean, is there any measurable progress on any of these thorny issues that you were very open in discussing in the hearing the other day?


I think that I actually am both an optimist by nature, but also a realist about the difficulties of this process and how much we have to get past. My own view, and I think my delegation certainly shares this, is that it isn't a lack of measurable progress. Each time we have met we have made progress. We made progress this time, and the truth is that you, in the end, inevitably come to some tough issues before you get agreement. But we made great progress and I remain optimistic that we will conclude, but we still have a few things that need to be ironed out and we're going to do that as quickly as possible.

So I do remain optimistic, but I'm also a realist about 54 years that we have to overcome.

MODERATOR: All right. Michael Gordon, New York Times.

QUESTION: After four rounds, can you explain to us – I know you touched on this in the hearing – but can you explain to us what your expectations are about the sort of access American diplomats really need to have in Cuba to perform their duties and the sort of access Cuban citizens need to have to the American Embassy to make this be a worthwhile project? Comparable to what sorts of situations in what countries, let's say, in the case of American diplomats? And do you think another round will be necessary to close the gaps between the two sides or do you think you might be able to do it without that? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. I think that we've been pretty clear throughout that obviously the opening of diplomatic relations, reestablishment of the embassies is going to be something that is different than the way we've operated in the past, and that there are a range of ways in which our embassies operate around the world in different countries. We expect that in Cuba, our embassy will operate within that range and so it won't be unique. It won't be anything that doesn't exist elsewhere in the world. There are various circumstances in which embassies operate in somewhat restrictive environments. And so all I can say at this point is we have confidence that when we get to an agreement, our embassy will be able to function so that our officers can do their jobs as we expect them to do worldwide, but in highly varying locations around the world. So I have every expectation that it will fall within the range of other places where we operate.

On the question of a next round, I think that we made a great deal of progress this time and that I don't know that we will need another round. I think at this point this is likely to be the kind of thing that can be hammered out using our diplomatic missions, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section here in Washington, and the very capable chiefs of mission in those two interests sections.

Sorry, that was too fast.

MODERATOR: And one last question to Gloria Ordaz from Univision.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Ms. Jacobson, the United States are – will continue to provide the training courses for journalists in Cuba. Are you willing to modify it because Cuba is requesting that? And if the answer is yes, why?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I think we've been very clear that we have continued to request funds from Congress for various activities in support of the Cuban people, but I've also been clear that those programs have changed over time since they began in 1996. I can't say what changes they may have in the future, but we are constantly looking at how to make them effective, which is the bottom line, and that is something we do all the time, not necessarily linked to this process. You have to look at the environment. You have to look at the way you provide support for people. So it's not a question that I can answer at this point, because we're still in conversations about functioning of embassies, which is where our focus is right now.

QUESTION: You can answer that in Spanish, too.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, everyone, for coming out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Senior State Department Official On the Ongoing Di

Senior State Department Official On the Ongoing Discussions with Cuba to Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations And Reopen Embassies


Yesterday, a Senior State Department Official participated in a background briefing on the upcoming meeting with our Cuban counterparts to continue the discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations being held at the Department of State on Thursday, May 21.

Below is the transcript:

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Senior State Department Official
Via teleconference
May 19, 2015

Short URL:

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Operator, and thanks to everyone for calling in today. And we're grateful to have with us a senior State Department official who can talk about the talks with Cuba that are coming up later this week.

And so for everyone's information, this call will be on background – no names or titles, please. But for your information, we have with us today [Senior State Department Official]. And with that I would hand it over to our speaker to give us a few words at the start, and then we will go to your questions so we can get to as many of them as we can in the limited time we've got.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you. Nice to speak with you all again. It is that time again – time for some conversations with our Cuban counterparts. We will be meeting on Thursday here in the Department. This is, as you know, the fourth round, if we're counting, of discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. Obviously, in between the third round, which was in Havana, and this fourth round, there have been a couple of, shall we say, more senior meetings to discuss the bilateral relationship in Panama, both Secretary Kerry meeting with his counterpart and President Obama meeting with President Castro. And now the junior G-men get back to work on the details of this relationship on Thursday.

So let me just say that I'm looking forward to getting down to that again. We've been ready for a while to discuss the next steps with our Cuban counterparts, and let me open it up to your questions.

MODERATOR: All right. So, Operator, I think we're ready to go to the first question, please.

OPERATOR: Okay. First a quick reminder: Press *1 if you have a question. And please limit yourself to one question so we have more opportunity for everyone.

Our first question will come from Margaret Warner with PBS NewsHour. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. Mine is a more general question, which is: Have you seen a change in the attitude of the Cubans since the meeting between the two presidents? And if so, what sort of change?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, thanks, Margaret. I think what I would say is since the meeting between the two presidents in Panama, there has been – I guess I would call it a sense of commitment to move this forward that was kind of renewed by that high-level contact. Obviously, as you've all seen, there has been a lot going on vis-a-vis Cuba, an announcement that the Pope is going to be going to Cuba, visits by other world leaders. And so we were ready to get together right after that meeting with President Castro, and our counterparts weren't necessarily as quick to be prepared as we were.

But I think that that meeting was quite positive in terms of the desire of both presidents to move forward with the commitment they made on December 17th to re-establish diplomatic relations. And that was useful in kind of re-asserting the – or underscoring for the Cuban side as well the desire to get this done. So we have seen more attention to this, a little bit, obviously, more movement on responses to our proposals. So, yeah, I think it has – it was very helpful to have the two leaders meet and have as productive a conversation as they did in Panama.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We're ready for the next question, Operator.

OPERATOR: That will come from Nora – I'm sorry – Nora Gamez with Miami Herald. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official], for doing this. Last week, President Castro criticizes the U.S. Interests Section because they were providing some sort of programs for independent journalists. And I think now this is another issue they want to be discussed. Is this something new? Was this ever discussed in the previous meetings?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think the thing that I would say is that on many occasions, both before we've had conversations and these talks and at other times, President Castro has talked about issues that he would like to see changes in behavior by the U.S., whether it is Guantanamo or democracy programs or the embargo. Some of those things are things that we are talking about within our discussions in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, and quite a lot of them are not.

So we are talking about how our embassy will operate when we reopen embassies in each other's countries, and the things that Cuba has often said they would like to see or would not like to see are obviously things that may or may not appear in their government's position when they come to the table. But I don't think it's a secret to anyone that the Cuban Government does not like the democracy programs that we have had. We have said that we will continue to request funds for democracy programs, but we also believe that this direct engagement is a way of directly supporting the Cuban people more effectively than we have in the past.

That said, we have had programs that have trained journalists all over the world that have taught them about some basic techniques in journalism. We do that in many, many places all over the world. And so we commit to doing that in lots of different places. But some – I want to be clear that some of the things that have been raised by President Castro in the past are things that we've discussed and some of them aren't.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. We're ready for the next question.

OPERATOR: That will come from Margaret Brennan with CBS News. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Would – thank you, [Senior State Department Official]. Just to follow up on that question, would the U.S. in any way consider changing how those programs with journalists are carried out or practiced – if not stopping, then changing the programs? Is that even something under consideration? And how close are you – I believe that the U.S. has to give about 15 days or the President has to give 15 days' notice on reopening the embassy. Where are we on the practicalities of that timeline?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, no, let me take the second question first, just because it's more straightforward. I think on the logistics here, there are quite a few things we have to go through on the checklist of reopening embassies, and one of them is a notification that we have to do to Congress whenever we change the status of a diplomatic mission. So that's what this would involve, and we will obviously do that. But also, there are things like the mundane, like each of us has to notify the Swiss that we're abrogating the protecting power agreement, since we're going to have direct diplomatic relations. And there's other things like that that you want to make sure you go through before you re-establish diplomatic relations.

So I think really we do one thing at a time in the sense that we will sit down and have our conversations and try and get to an agreement on the way these operations will run, and then we'll take care of all of the diplomatic niceties. The one thing that I would say is we are cognizant of a 15-day notification period with Congress, and so when we send forward the notification to Congress – and I don't know exactly when that will be – it won't necessarily signal we are opening embassies in exactly 15 days. It will signal to Congress we are – we know we're going to be opening embassy – a change in status where we'll be going to an embassy. We need to be sure we've cleared this with you, so we want to have that 15-day period have passed. It won't signify a specific date. It will be something we want to have done before we move forward on an opening, whenever that date will be.

On the question of democracy programs, I think the thing that you have to remember is the democracy programs, in their history since I think about 1996 when they began, have changed over time. And they will continue to change over time to reflect a reality, whether that reality is on the ground in Cuba or in the United States. When the democracy programs began, for example, Cubans could not travel nearly as freely as they now can. Ever since the change in policy by the Cuban Government in 2013, many more people can travel, which means people can do things and participate in things outside of Cuba as opposed to inside of it.

I think we always have to be cognizant of making sure that when we are supporting the Cuban people, we're doing it in a way that is the most effective. We've moved forward with requests for funding in the past couple of years, and we've done that most recently in FY '16. But I think we have to be careful not to ever have thought that those programs were static and separate from changes in the environment in which they're working.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That will be Rosiland Jordan with Al Jazeera English. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official]. Thanks for doing the call. In terms of the issues that are not being discussed right now in the normalization process, is the status of Guantanamo as a military installation not a part of these talks? And if you could reiterate why, why not. Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can certainly reiterate that the status of Guantanamo is not a part of these talks. As I had said months ago, it is not on the table. The question of why or why not I think is a question – the President has made clear he's not interested in having that conversation. We have begun where it is logical to begin, which is the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which is what the President and President Castro agreed to. We know that in the process of normalization, for example, there will be other things that we will tackle, such as claims and other longer-term conversations. But we've made clear that the issue of Guantanamo is not on the table at this point, and I don't – I can't say what the future may bring on this, but it's not on the table right now, and I don't know that there's a reason to justify having it or not having it. And you certainly heard the Cubans' view on this, but it's not under discussion at this point.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We're ready for the next question, operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We have Indira Lakshmanan with Bloomberg News. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, [Senior State Department Official]. I wanted to actually add to Margaret's earlier question about logistics. So even prior to that 15-day notification period, obviously the President notified Congress in the middle of April the 14th that he'd take Cuba off the list of state sponsors. So I think with 45 days that brings us to the end of May, May 29th, if I'm correct. And I want to know: Does that mean at that time – have the Cubans indicated to you that upon reaching May 29th they are then – have all the boxes been checked, that they're ready to soon re-establish the embassies and name the ambassadors? And have you had any opposition from Congress within this period, and do you expect to have any within the following 15-day period?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, let me just say that to some extent I'm reading the same articles you are, Indira, and the Cubans have made pretty clear in their public statements that they view the lapsing of the 45-day period on the Hill for the state sponsor of terrorism rescission decision, which happens on May 29th, and the finding of a bank, which they now have done, as things that are now resolved and therefore they can move forward with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. I'm delighted to hear that they're ready to move forward on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, but the fact is we never linked those two things and therefore we have been ready to move forward on the diplomatic side for quite a while now. If they are now ready to do the same, we're delighted to hear that.

Just a comment that it's true that the 45-day period lapses on the 29th. I think there is a Federal Register notice that then has to be published, which is like a day or something, so I just want to be careful that it actually goes into effect like a day or two after that, which the Cubans are aware of. But obviously, as of the 45-day period Congress no longer has the ability to act, at least during that window.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no efforts underway right now on Capitol Hill to block the removal of Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list. I think those were the questions. I can't remember if there was anything else.

MODERATOR: I think that's right. Operator, next question?

OPERATOR: Thank you. We have Andrea Mitchell with NBC News. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi there, thanks so much. And I apologize; I got knocked off at the beginning so you may have already explained this. But absent any action from Congress then, if you could be a little more granular, would there be anything to prevent the Cubans from opening their embassy in Washington without any further announcement once the Federal Registry announcement is cleared?

And are there any other impediments that you know of to the opening in Havana, aside from the access issues you've already detailed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. No, it's a good question. To be clear, the – from our perspective, there were never any impediments except the negotiation of how our embassies were going to operate, which is obviously what we're sitting down to talk about again tomorrow. The – for the Cubans, they seem to link the two, and you'd have to ask them whether they see any other impediments, although they seem to be saying publicly that there are no others as of when that 45-day period lapses. But obviously, neither of us can open embassies until we come to that agreement jointly. Diplomatic relations are always reciprocal and by mutual consent under the Vienna Conventions, which are the basis for this discussion on diplomatic re-establishment. And therefore, regardless of what other political obstacles either of our governments may have felt we had, or legal obstacles, from our perspective, all we have to do is sit down and agree, and then our presidents can move forward with the conduct of diplomatic relations, as presidents have the executive power to do.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That will come from Jo Biddle with AFP. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hello, thanks very much indeed. It sounds like from what you're saying, [Senior State Department Official], that the United States is ready to really go ahead and that the Cubans aren't exactly coming up with what it is that you want in terms of operating your embassy freely in Havana. I wondered – you mentioned that you've got this checklist of things to go over on the logistics. Do you anticipate these will be cleared up within this meeting on Thursday this week, and therefore you might be actually in a position to issue that notice to Congress on your intention to go forward with diplomatic relations?

And you mentioned – just one logistic question. You mentioned that the Cubans have found a bank. Could you tell us which one it is? Thank you very much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can't tell you which bank it is. That's an agreement between the Cubans and the bank, and probably that's for them to do or the bank. And I'm pretty sure they're going to be making a public announcement of that shortly. So that's really not my place to announce, but I know it was one of their requirements and that they've fulfilled it. So it's a good thing.

On the question of the checklist and so forth, I've entered every one of these rounds being an optimist, so I'm trying not to sound too Pollyannaish as I go into the fourth one. But I do think we're closer than we have been in the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire to get this done. But equally, we have certain requirements that we need met, so we just have to see whether we can get there in this round of talks. I certainly hope so.

I do want to be clear, Jo, the notification to Congress on the change in status we could send to Congress at any time, and we could have sent it two weeks ago. In other words, it doesn't have to wait until we come to an agreement with the Cubans. It is still our intention to raise the interests section in Cuba to an embassy at some point when we come to agreement with the Cubans. So that being our intention, we can notify Congress of that at any time and let the 15-day period run, and then we would be – we would have complied with the requirement to notify Congress. So I don't – we don't have to wait until we've finished these talks to do that. And I don't know exactly when we'll send it forward, but it's not a prerequisite that we have agreement before we send that forward.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We have Lesley Wroughton with Reuters. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Yes. I realize you better go through this checklist, but can you really have an agreement to establish that embassy without – with these – this agreement over the diplomacy program security issues still hanging over your head? I mean, I know you say you want time to delink them, but do you really think that the Cubans will go forward with this with those things still up in the air?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm not sure what security issues you mean.

QUESTION: So have you guys agreed, then, on the security perimeter? You had the Cuban police in the vicinity of the embassy and you wanted that changed, right? Because you had actually for --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Well, I mean, what I'm saying is that if we go forward, it will be because we've been satisfied on the issues that were our requirements, right. And I'm pretty optimistic we can come to an agreement that satisfies our requirements. Whether or not they're going to be able to agree to those things is really a question for them, but we've clearly gotten closer and worked our way to a fewer number of items on the checklist, so, I mean, that's the reason for my optimism.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. We've got just a little bit of time left, so we'll try to take a few quick questions. The next one, please.

OPERATOR: That will come from Randy Archibold with The New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just had a question to clarify the 15-day notice to Congress. Within that period, is there any mechanism in the law for Congress to challenge that decision?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, it's – this is notification of a status change in our mission. In this case, this is a status change from an interests section to an embassy. That is not a change that Congress can block, because it is up to the Executive Branch to conduct foreign relations. That's a constitutional power of the President, from our interpretation and reading and precedent. Obviously, as you know, previous presidents have restarted or begun relations with countries, whether it was Kosovo or South Sudan or others in the past. It is similar to that, except in this case, we have an interests section in the country, and we changing its status to that of an embassy.

In this case, there is no budgetary implication. There is no money being spent requested from Congress to make that change. And therefore, no, it is a notification only.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Next question?

OPERATOR: That will come from Brad Klapper with AP. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you provide any more information on the size and scope of this journalist training program you do in Havana? I don't imagine it's that big given the total overall assistance levels, but if you could specify in any way? And also, I'd love to be illuminated on what the U.S. Government considers basic techniques in journalism, if you could expound on that in any way. Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the good news is that I couldn't possibly expand on what the U.S. Government thinks of as basic techniques in journalism, because the U.S. Government would never teach journalism. We're government bureaucrats. People who would teach journalism would be journalism professors at journalism schools or other journalists. So I have no idea what their curriculum is, but it is – to the extent that we have courses on journalism and what journalists do around the world, we bring in, as we do everywhere else when we teach anything, right, we bring in experts in that field and we have them teach. Happily, the U.S. Government doesn't have Foreign Service officers or anybody else teaching how other professions do their jobs. We have a hard enough time doing our own jobs.

Second of all, I can't give you a good sense of the actual size. Number one, I think, to be perfectly honest, I don't know the specifics of how many people may have been enrolled over various times. But the second thing is that those programs are – some are people who go maybe to seminars outside the country, some may have attended things that were done in terms of seminars in our interests section. And I just feel like for the protection of folks who were involved, it's better that we don't give out too much information. This is the way we operate in restrictive environments where people don't have the freedom to take all of those things on an online course or internet access the way they might anywhere else.

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We have Karen DeYoung with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is actually, I guess, sort of a follow-up to Brad's question and several others. The – Gustavo Machin in his press conference in Havana yesterday, I think, spoke indirectly to the journalist program and said that Cuba didn't find anything within the Vienna Convention that covered this kind of access to a diplomatic installation in any capital, and that therefore, they didn't recognize the validity of it under normal diplomatic relationships. Is that something that you expect to be a problem in terms of – is it something you're going to insist on on your checklist on providing this kind of access and allowing people to come in and take online courses on computers and things like that?

And also, just again in terms of your checklist, you've mentioned in the past the ability of diplomats to travel around the island and also the access of diplomatic material coming into the embassy. Have you gotten any indication since your last meeting that the Cubans are moving toward being able to resolve those issues to your satisfaction?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks, Karen. I think on the first question, all I would say as we go into conversations is that having determined that the Vienna Conventions – the two Vienna Conventions on consular interactions are the basis for this agreement. We have always discussed what we discussed within the context of our interpretations of those conventions. And I think as we come to closure on this, we will have an even fuller conversation on what may be at times some differing interpretations of the Vienna Convention and how we can come to an agreement on the way our diplomats should operate and the way their diplomats will obviously be permitted to operate in the United States, as everything in these agreements is reciprocal.

The second thing I would say is on the diplomatic checklist I wouldn't be even remotely optimistic if I did not feel that we were making progress. And by making progress, I mean obviously the checklist is getting done; there are check marks being made in the box. And that's how you have to be moving if you're going to get to an agreement. So there has been movement, and I think that we need continued movement for us to get to a place of agreement, but I expect that we will be able to do that.

MODERATOR: All right. Time is running short, so we're going to do one or two quick ones. Please go ahead, operator.

OPERATOR: All right. We have Lucia Leal with EFE News. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask you on Raul Castro's remarks last week. He also said that for him, the naming of ambassadors will be like an approachment, but for a full normalization of relations that Guantanamo has to be given up and the embargo has to be lifted. So it seems like their interpretation is pretty different. Do you think that there's a gap in the way they are interpreting things and the way you are interpreting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, look, there probably is a difference in interpretation, but there's not as big a gap as some may think in that, obviously, the – President Castro is correct in saying that the restoration of diplomatic relations is the first step; naming of ambassadors would come after that. I would say the President has already called for the lifting of the embargo, and it is certainly true that fully normal relations do not include an economic embargo, right. They do not include economic sanctions. That is not a fully normal political and economic relationship. So in that respect, to some extent he's right, but that is part of a longer-term normalization.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. I know we've got to end now. Our speaker has additional engagements and work to turn to, so thank you very much to our senior State Department official, and thanks to participants in the call. This has been on background, attributable to a senior State Department official on Cuba. Thanks very much for your dialing in, and we'll be in touch again next time.

[This is a mobile copy of On the Ongoing Discussions with Cuba to Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations And Reopen Embassies]

Short URL:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rethinking #Cuba: New opportunities for development - #CubaGrowth

Rethinking Cuba: New opportunities for development 
Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM

The Brookings Institution
Saul/Zilkha Rooms, 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

RSVP to Attend

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced that the United States and Cuba would seek to reestablish diplomatic relations. Since then, the two countries have engaged in bilateral negotiations in Havana and Washington, the United States has made several unilateral policy changes to facilitate greater trade and travel between the two countries, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to lift the travel ban. Meanwhile, conversations are ongoing about ending the 50-plus-year embargo and Cuba has continued the process of updating its economic system, including establishing new rules for foreign investment and the emerging private sector.

In light of the significant shifts underway in the U.S.-Cuba relationship, new questions arise about Cuba's development model, and its economic relations with the region and the world. On Tuesday, June 2, the Latin America Initiative at Brookings will host a series of panel discussions with various experts including economists, lawyers, academics, and practitioners to examine opportunities and challenges facing Cuba in this new context. Panels will examine macroeconomic changes underway in Cuba, how to finance Cuba's growth, the emerging private sector, and themes related to much-needed foreign investment. Throughout the program, the panelists will take questions from the audience.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #CubaGrowth.

9:00 am -- Panel 1: Trends in the Cuban economy in light of the new U.S.-Cuba context
Moderator: Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow, Latin America Initiative, The Brookings Institution
Featured Speaker: Stefan Selig, Undersecretary for International Trade, U.S. Department of Commerce
Juan Triana Cordovi, Professor of Economics, University of Havana
Archibald Ritter, Distinguished Research Professor, Carleton University

10:00 am -- Panel 2: Financing Cuba's growth, development, and trade
Moderator: Barbara Kotschwar, Research Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics
Yaima Doimeadios, Professor, University of Havana
Richard Feinberg, Professor, University of California, San Diego; Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Saira Pons, Professor, Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana
Germán Ríos, Director, Strategic Affairs, CAF Development Bank

11:15 am -- Panel 3: Next steps for Cuba's emerging private sector–Cuentapropistas and cooperatives
Moderator: Richard Feinberg, Professor, University of California, San Diego; Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Rafael Betancourt, Consultant, Havanada Consulting
Omar Everleny, Professor, Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, University of Havana
Ted Henken, Professor, Baruch College
John McIntire, Chairman, Cuba Emprende Foundation

1:00 pm -- Panel 4: A new stage in foreign direct investment
Moderator: Harold Trinkunas, Senior Fellow and Director, Latin America Initiative, The Brookings Institution
Mark Entwistle, Founding Partner, Acasta Capital
José María Vinals Camallonga, Partner and Director, International Operations, Lupicinio International Law Firm
Augusto Maxwell, Partner, Akerman, LLP

2:00 pm -- Closing Remarks
Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow, Latin America Initiative, The Brookings Institution

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cuentapropistas, sí; Emprendadoras, no

por Jorge Duany
Catedrático de Antropología
El Nuevo Día
Miércoles, 13 de mayo de 2015
En febrero pasado, el gobierno cubano reportó 489,929 trabajadores por cuenta propia, el 9.6% de la fuerza laboral. Dicha cifra representa más del triple de la cantidad registrada inicialmente cuando el gobierno autorizó el autoempleo en 1993, en plena crisis económica bautizada como "Período Especial en Tiempos de Paz". Conocidos popularmente como "cuentapropistas", miles de cubanos emprendedores han establecido pequeños negocios privados, especialmente en la elaboración y venta de alimentos, el transporte de pasajeros y el arrendamiento de viviendas.
Este es el tema central del valioso libro del economista canadiense Archibald R. M. Ritter y el sociólogo estadounidense Ted A. Henken, "Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape" (Boulder: FirstForumPress, 2014). Los autores se proponen explicar las causas y consecuencias socioeconómicas del auge del trabajo por cuenta propia durante la era de Raúl Castro (2006–2014).
El estudio se basa en entrevistas a profundidad con 60 microempresarios cubanos, completadas entre 1999 y 2009, así como en extensas observaciones sobre el terreno de varios negocios independientes. Su análisis se concentra en tres sectores económicos vinculados a la industria turística: los paladares (pequeños restaurantes familiares), las casas particulares (alquiladas a extranjeros) y los taxis privados, incluyendo los "bicitaxis", "cocotaxis" y "almendrones", como llaman los cubanos a los antiguos carros americanos.
En el 2010, el gobierno cubano anunció el despido de 500,000 empleados estatales "redundantes" como parte de la "actualización" del modelo económico en la Isla. Al mismo tiempo, fomentó la expansión de empleos en el sector no estatal, muchos de los cuales ya se realizaban clandestinamente.
El número de oficios autorizados para el trabajo por cuenta propia incrementó de 55 en 1993 a 201 en el 2013. El grueso son ocupaciones de servicios poco calificados, como aguador, amolador, barbero, jardinero, limpiabotas, mago, masajista, mensajero, payaso, peluquera y productor de piñatas. A la vez, se sigue prohibiendo el autoempleo en los servicios profesionales y técnicos, excepto profesores de idiomas, música y arte, programadores de computadoras y reparadores de equipos electrónicos y de oficina.
Según Ritter y Henken, aún persisten numerosas restricciones burocráticas, desincentivos económicos y obstáculos ideológicos al trabajo por cuenta propia en Cuba. Para empezar, las tasas impositivas -mucho más onerosas que para la inversión extranjera- mantienen artificialmente el tamaño pequeño de las empresas. Más aún, la estigmatización de los cuentapropistas como "macetas" (adinerados, en el argot cubano) niega la legitimidad del motivo de lucro individual. El discurso oficial ni siquiera utiliza los términos "mercado" o "sector privado" al referirse a las pequeñas empresas independientes, sino al "sector no estatal".
El crecimiento del cuentapropismo tiene implicaciones políticas en Cuba, en tanto permite ensanchar un segmento de la población que no depende del gobierno para su sustento. Asimismo, subvierte algunas premisas claves del gobierno, como el monopolio estatal de los medios de producción, la planificación central, la distribución equitativa de los ingresos y la política de pleno empleo.
Los autores de "Entrepreneurial Cuba" recuerdan que la confiscación estatal de todos los establecimientos comerciales privados a fines de la década de 1960 agravó la escasez de productos básicos, infló los precios de bienes y servicios y deprimió los niveles de vida de la población cubana. La intensa antipatía oficial contra cualquier "timbiriche" (pequeña tienda al aire libre) estuvo vigente hasta principios de la década de 1990.
Según los autores, las reformas económicas iniciadas por el gobierno de Raúl Castro han impulsado la recaudación de impuestos, ayudando a subsidiar servicios sociales y estimulando nuevas fuentes de ingresos. Sin embargo, Ritter y Henken recomiendan legalizar el autoempleo en todas las actividades económicas -incluyendo los servicios profesionales-, reducir los impuestos y aumentar la cantidad de trabajadores empleados en cada empresa. Solo entonces podrá el cuentapropismo desempeñar un papel protagónico en la revitalización de la precaria economía cubana.

Avast logo

Monday, April 27, 2015

"Enterprising Cuba: Citizen Empowerment, State Abandonment, or U.S. Business Opportunity" by Ted A. Henken and Gabriel Vignoli

What are the new opportunities and remaining obstacles both on the U.S. and Cuban sides to greater entrepreneurial engagement between our countries?

For our answer to this much-asked question, see the essay, "Enterprising Cuba: Citizen Empowerment, State Abandonment, or U.S. Business Opportunity," that Gabriel Vignoli and I recently contributed to the American University / Social Science Research Council "Implications of Normalization: Scholarly Perspectives on U.S.-Cuba Relations" forum.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Let 201 flowers bloom (but no more!): Cuba's list of permitted self-employment occupations

As an appendix to our recent book, Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape (discount order form here), Arch Ritter and I produced the updated, annotated, and translated list of Cuba's 201 permitted self-employment occupations (trabajos por cuenta propia) provided below.

We have even taken the liberty of highlighting the (few) occupations (goods and services) on the list that might be marketable in the U.S.

Given that there's been so much talk recently of potential U.S. economic engagement with Cuba - and its private "non-state" sector - (& especially in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's delegation to Cuba last week) I wanted to share this list with readers of El Yuma as a necessary reality check.

In other words, as the Obama administration begins the laudable and necessary task of hollowing out the U.S. embargo (until Congress finally votes to just get rid of the damn thing!), we should remember that:

The Cuban government has an auto-bloqueo (internal embargo) of its own that continues to act as a major obstacle to small- and medium-size business development on the island.

Note: While our sources are at the end of the list, a special H/T goes out to the Associated Press, which published a preliminary translation of the then 178-occupation list on January 30, 2011 (likely done by the then Havana bureau chief Paul Haven, who also published this article at the same time), and to Richard Feinberg, whose own report, "Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes," includes a very helpful and detailed translation of the by then slightly expanded list of 201 occupations (see pp. 54-57).


Sunday, April 19, 2015


For Immediate Release: 4/19/2015
State of New York | Executive Chamber
Andrew M. Cuomo | Governor


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that leaders from business and higher education will be joining New York's trade mission to Cuba – the first Governor-led state trade mission to Cuba since President Obama began the process to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. The trade mission delegation will depart on April 20, 2015.

"The representatives in New York's delegation will help ensure Empire State companies are at the front of the line as the door opens to a market that has been closed to U.S. enterprise for over half a century." Governor Cuomo said. "These industry leaders will serve as ambassadors for all that New York State has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future."

In addition to the below industry leaders, the delegation is joined by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader and Coalition Co-Leader Jeffrey Klein.

Howard Zemsky, President, CEO & Commissioner of Empire State Development, said, "New York State will lead a series of economic development trade missions that will strengthen existing trade relationships and create new ones. These trade missions will increase visibility for New York State and help New York businesses expand their global footprint."

The Governor's trade mission includes representatives from a variety of industries, including air travel, health care, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, financial services, agriculture and higher education. Specifically joining the Governor's trade mission is:

Air Travel – JetBlue and the Plattsburgh International Airport

Headquartered in Long Island City with more than 6,000 New York-based jobs, JetBlue is New York's Hometown Airline™, and a leading carrier in Boston, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Los Angeles (Long Beach), Orlando, and San Juan. JetBlue carries more than 32 million customers a year to 87 cities in the U.S., Caribbean, and Latin America with an average of 875 daily flights. JetBlue will be represented on the trade mission by Robin Hayes, CEO; and James G. Hnat, EVP General Counsel & Governmental Affairs.

The Plattsburgh International Airport is an important regional transportation hub in Upstate New York. The airport is represented by Garry Douglas, President and CEO of the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Douglas also serves as co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

Financial Services – MasterCard

MasterCard is a technology company in the global payments industry that operates the world's fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard's New York headquarters are in Purchase, and the company has approximately 1,500 New York-based employees. They will be represented by Walt M. Macnee, Vice Chair, MasterCard.

Health/Biotech/Pharma NY Genome Center, Pfizer, Regeneron and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute

The NY Genome Center is an independent, nonprofit at the forefront of transforming biomedical research and clinical care with the mission of saving lives. As a consortium of renowned academic, medical and industry leaders across the globe, NYGC focuses on translating genomic research into clinical solutions for serious disease. The Center will be represented on the trade mission by Dr. Robert Darnell, CEO; and Carol Ashe, Chief Business Officer.

Pfizer, one of the world's premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies, employs more than 4,600 people in New York State. Pfizer's global headquarters are based in Manhattan, and the company also has a vaccines and biologics research site in Rockland County, NY. Pfizer will be represented on the trade mission by its Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President Freda Lewis-Hall, M.D.

Regeneron is a leading science-based biopharmaceutical company based in Tarrytown, with approximately 2,500 employees that discovers, invents, develops, manufactures, and commercializes medicines for the treatment of serious medical conditions. Regeneron will be represented on the trade mission by CEO Dr. Leonard Schleifer.

The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, RPCI is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute will be represented on the trade mission by CEO Dr. Candace Johnson, as well as Department of Immunology Chair Dr. Kelvin Lee.

Technology – Infor

Infor specializes in enterprise software applications for a variety of industries, including health care, with headquarters in Manhattan and approximately 12,700 total employees. Infor will be represented on the trade mission by Charles Phillips, CEO; and Steve Fanning, VP Healthcare Industry Strategy.

Agriculture – Cayuga Milk Ingredients and Chobani

Cayuga Milk Ingredients began in 2012 as a farmer-owned dairy company located in the Finger Lakes region. Formed from the vision of a small group of farmers, CMI offers locally produced, high-quality, and specialized dairy ingredients. The company's family-owned farms include several multi-generational farmers, some of whose farms date back over 150 years. The company is headquartered in Auburn and will be represented by CEO Kevin Ellis.

Chobani was founded in upstate New York in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya, who launched Chobani Greek Yogurt in 2007. Less than six years later, it has become the No.1-selling Greek Yogurt brand in the U.S. with more than a billion dollars in annual sales – making Chobani one of the fastest-growing companies in history. The company is headquartered in Norwich and has approximately 6,000 in-state employees. CEO Mr. Ulukaya will be representing Chobani on the trade mission.

Higher Education – The State University of New York system (SUNY), the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, has helped transform New York State into a world leader in higher education. SUNY educates more than 450,000 students in more than 7,500 academic programs at 64 campuses across New York State. SUNY Chancellor Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher and Dr. Jose F. Buscaglia-Salgado, Director of Caribbean, Latin American, and Latino Studies for the University at Buffalo, will be representing SUNY.

This trade mission is part of Global NY, an initiative launched by Governor Cuomo in 2014. The Global NY trade mission to Cuba will be the first of several trade mission destinations, including Canada, China, Israel and Mexico. With offices in New York, Canada, China, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, Global NY has on-the-ground experts around the world creating new business opportunities for New York State. In addition, the Governor recently unveiled, a one-stop shop for trade and investment and a $35 million Global NY Development Fund which will soon provide loans and grants to help small- and medium-sized New York businesses export abroad.


Additional news available at
New York State | Executive Chamber | | 518.474.8418

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tomorrow in Times Square: Tatlin's Whisper #6

Tomorrow in Times Square: Cuban post-performance of TANIA BRUGUERA with 1 minute of freedom.

"Tatlin's Whisper #6"

Monday April 13, 2015 (TOMRROW), from 12M to 2pm

Duffy Square, besides the red stairs and the TKTS stand (north triangle of Times Square, between 45th and 47th streets, and between Broadway y 7th Avenue).


By restaging Tania Bruguera's participatory artwork "Tatlin's Whisper #6," we stand in solidarity with her, Angel Santiesteban, Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto," and all other artists around the world who face criminal charges and violence for exercising their basic human right to free expression. As article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Governments must embrace the rights of their citizens and non-citizens alike to share their voices, ideas, values, beliefs, and dreams without fear of persecution or violence. As citizens of the world with a shared humanity, we urge the government of Cuba to drop all charges against Tania Bruguera, Angel Santiesteban, and Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto," who are either imprisoned or facing imprisonment for doing what every person of the planet should be able to do: expressing themselves.

Title of Work:
#YoTambienExijo: A Restaging of Tatlin's Whisper #6


For performance:
•No microphone is needed. Instead use a human microphone like the ones used in Occupy Wall Street.
•A small box (soapbox style) for the speaker to stand on.
•People are invited to speak for one minute about freedom of speech.
•Optional: If you want to you can include a WHITE dove, but do not keep the dove on the shoulder as this is extremely difficult. Each person can hold the dove in their hands, and hands it over to the next person. Have a few… just in case they escape.

For documentation:
•Please document events (either with still or video) and post to the Creative Time Facebook "event" at, as well as on personal and, preferably, institutional Twitter and Instagram accounts, using the hashtags #YoTambienExijo and #FreeTaniaBruguera. Please indicate where the performance occurred and when.

8 Quick Takeaways on Future of US-Cuba Relations from the Summit of the Americas

8 Quick Takeaways on Future of US-Cuba Relations from the Summit of the Americas

1. Embarrassing lack of tolerance and "civility" on part of Cuba's official civil society delegation (major contrast with Raul Castro's warm and respectful approach to Obama). Failed the test of tolerance but will have to learn as the days of the exclusive, official "Cuban delegation" representing the island at international events are over since the migration reform of 2013. Question: Cuba can open up to the US (and vice versa) but can it open up to ITSELF - listen to the diverse and often dissenting views and organizations of its emergent civil society?

2. Surprising personal regard Raul Castro expressed for Obama as "an honest man" who has "no responsibility for past US policy" - I loved when Raul admitted he had cut that part from his speech, then put it back, then cut it, & finally decided to include it and was "satisfied" with his decision. History is made in the details.

3. Obama's clear understanding of the key role of civil society and public support for Cuban civil society - expressed both in his terrific speech at the civil society forum and by meeting with Manuel Cuesta Morua & Laritza Diversent. Obama later stressed that these two leading Cuban dissidents support his "empowerment through engagement" policy.

4. Obama-Castro historic handshakes, joint press conference, & private meeting - "agree to disagree," "work together where we can with respect and civility," "everything on the table based on mutual respect," "patience x 2!" - Obama looking forward and not trapped by ideology or interested in re fighting Cold War battles that started before he was born (but appreciates lessons of history); Raul still passionate (and long-winded) about past US wrongs but admits that can disagree today but "we could agree tomorrow."

5. Obama's unequivocal clarification that "On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change; we are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to shape their own destiny," stressing that "Cuba is not a threat to the United States."

6. Maduro/Venezuela issue did not steal the show as some had feared (or hoped); Maduro did not get support for his condemnation of US sanctions and even had to endure some countries expressed concern for his own jailing of dissidents.

7. Shift in the region away from ideology toward economic pragmatism fueled in part by China slow-down, Russia nose-dive, & Venezuela implosion. US ready to step in with strategic economic engagement and oil diplomacy - especially to Caribbean Basin (H/T to Andrés Oppenheimer).

8. Also, various economically and diplomatically powerful Latin American nations have big domestic corruption scandals (Brazil, Argentina, Chile) or violence and security issues (Mexico, Central America) that make them wary of any confrontation with the US (H/T to Andrés Oppenheimer).

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Taste of "Entrepreneurial Cuba" + Video

Last Thursday, April 2, Arch Ritter and I were welcomed to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas by Alana Tummino to give our first joint presentation of our new book "Entrepreneurial Cuba."

I'm proud to say that the event was sold out (even if it was free - along with a free lunch!) and Arch and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves thanks to great moderation by Alana and many eager and incisive questions from the attendees.

The video of the event is here (beginning at 1:00).

ascoa on Broadcast Live Free

For those of you who were not able to make it, here is a special order form for the book at a big discount. Also, below I'm providing the preface to the book along with a link to chapter 1.

Tell your friends!