US and Cuba issue nuanced statements after bilateral Commission

Cuba has strongly criticised some aspects of the US policy, while recognising the value of functional exchanges on matters of mutual interest

A Cuban Foreign Ministry statement issued following a seventh Bilateral Commission meeting held in Washington on June 14 rejected US officials’ views on the alleged and still unresolved ‘attacks’ on US diplomats, while noting the areas in which the two nations were able to maintain a constructive dialogue.

The linguistic formulation used previously by Cuba to indicate the absence of hostility and a desire for détente – describing discussions as taking place in ‘an atmosphere of respect and professionalism’ –  was not present in the Cuban statement.

For its part, the US State Department statement emphasised Washington’s concern about the alleged ‘attacks’ on US diplomats in 2016-17 from causes that are still unknown while also recognising areas in which the exchanges had been productive.

It said that the US ‘reiterated the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on US diplomats and to ensure they cease’. It continued: ‘we also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our Embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana. It went on to express ‘continued concerns about the arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders’.

More positively, the US statement then made clear that a mutually beneficial bilateral dialogue on other issues continued. It noted that the two delegations reviewed combatting trafficking in persons; facilitating safe civil aviation; law enforcement cooperation; agricultural cooperation; maritime safety and search and rescue cooperation; the resolution of certified claims; advancing understanding of environmental challenges; and protecting the national security and public health and safety of the United States. In addition, the US acknowledged progress in repatriating Cubans with final orders of removal from its shores but emphasised its belief that Cuba needed to accept greater numbers of returnees.

Cuba’s reaction to the outcome of the meeting was equally nuanced.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that ‘the Cuban delegation rejected the setback imposed by the government of the United States in bilateral relations and called attention to its negative consequences for both peoples, Cuban emigration and for the regional and international environment’.

After reiterating its usual criticisms of the US embargo, extra territorial financial measures, and the US stance on human rights, it went on to note that its delegation urged the US government ‘to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases that became a pretext for the adoption of new unilateral measures’. It noted that they were affecting the provision by both nations consular services as was the US’s ‘arbitrary travel alert’ which it said was hindering all forms of people to people exchange.

Despite this the Cuban delegation acknowledged the progress made in discussions on the bilateral commitments on migration, while warning of the risk of non-compliance by the United States.

After the meeting, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the Director General of the US division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who led the Cuban delegation told Prensa Latina that the meeting ‘demonstrated that civilised cooperation and coexistence can be achieved, respecting differences and promoting what benefits both countries and peoples’.

He reportedly expressed Cuba’s willingness to continue the bilateral dialogue and to work on issues of common interest with the active implementation, based on concrete proposals, of the bilateral agreements signed, such as those related to environmental protection, the application and compliance of law, health, agriculture, hydrography and geodesy, among others’.

Cuba as a nation and as a Government is capable of understanding the concern of the US Department of State for the health of its officials but that ‘we are facing a fact that (the situation) has been politically manipulated’, because using the word ‘attacks’ imputes responsibility on Cuba’s part’, Fernández de Cossío told the news agency.

The US delegation was led by John Creamer, Deputy Assistant secretary of the Department of State for the Western Hemisphere. The next Cuba-US encounter will be in the summer and will focus on migratory issues and legal issues.

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Photo Credit: Cubahora, ‘Banderas de Cuba y Estados Unidos’, Flickr

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