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US and Cuba Restore Full Diplomatic Ties

Girls playing in street in Cuba

Doug Wheller-cc

John Burger - published on 07/02/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Dissenters point out legal problems with Washington's move

Six months after the announcement of a historic Vatican-brokered deal between the United States and Cuba, and a day after Pope Francis’ itinerary for a September voyage to Havana and Washington was released, the two former Cold War rivals have taken a major step in reestablishing full diplomatic relations.

President Obama formally announced Wednesday that the US and Cuba have agreed to open embassies in each other’s capitals.  

"This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas,” Obama said.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana, which has been closed since Jan. 3, 1961, is scheduled to open on July 20, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said.

Earlier in the day, Reuters reported that the senior U.S. diplomat in Havana on Wednesday delivered a letter from Obama addressed to Cuban President Raul Castro about the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The text of the letter was not immediately disclosed.

Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the U.S. interests section, handed the letter to Cuba’s interim foreign minister, Marcelino Medina, at the Cuban foreign ministry. The two shook hands in front of a Cuban and a U.S. flag. …

Following 18 months of secret negotiations brokered by Pope Francis and Canada, the two leaders announced separately but simultaneously in December that they planned to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals and normalize relations. …

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected at a flag-raising ceremony in Havana later this month, when the U.S. interests section will become a full embassy. Cuba’s mission in Washington will undergo a similar upgrade.

The deal in December also included a prisoner swap and sought to relegate to history 56 years of recriminations that have predominated ever since Fidel Castro’s rebels overthrew the U.S.-backed government of Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959.

Not all Cuban-Americans agree with the deal. Some have expressed concern about the United States’ willingness to grant Cuba many concessions, with little in return from Havana. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has vowed to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador unless “substantive progress is made” on human rights issues that have dogged Cuba for decades, Fox News reported.

“Establishing diplomatic relations with the Castro regime without verified improvements in the [human rights] situation faced by the Cuban people would not be consistent with our values as a nation and the intent of the U.S. Congress, as codified in law,” Rubio wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Kerry.

Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said that opening a U.S. Embassy in Cuba misses the mark and “will do nothing to help the Cuban people and is just another trivial attempt for President Obama to go legacy shopping.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland,  said even though opening the embassies was part of a “common sense approach to Cuba,” that the U.S. must be cautious about the move. He called on Cuba to admit to being out of step with the international community on human rights.  He also said Cuba must stop its “arrests and detention of dissidents” and said “genuine political pluralism is long overdue.”

The blog Capitol Hill Cubans detailed reasons why now is not the time for restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba, which it pointed out is "the only government in the Western Hemisphere not elected by its citizens."

The announcement comes on the same week that the Castro regime violently arrested over 226 peaceful Cuban dissidents.

That makes the timing particularly distasteful.

According to U.S. law ("LIBERTAD Act"), diplomatic recognition should only be considered "when the President determines that a there exists a democratically elected government in Cuba."

It also states that, "the satisfactory resolution of property claims by a Cuban Government recognized by the United States remains an essential condition for the full resumption of economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba."

That makes the announcement in contravention of U.S. law.

Finally, as a condition for the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Castro regime has demanded restrictions on U.S. diplomat’s movement; the inspection of diplomatic pouches for the Mission; an end to the execution of democracy programs (i.e. the training of independent journalists); and the continuance of a state security cordon to intimidate Cubans from approaching the Mission.

That would be in contravention of the Vienna Convention—and unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere.

CubaPoliticsPope Francis
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