For the first time in more than three decades, high level talks are underway between the U.S. and Cuba. CCTV America’s Michael Voss reported this story from Havana.
The U.S. delegation is the highest level U.S. negotiating team to visit Cuba in 35 years. Both sides are looking to restore diplomatic relations and re-open their embassies for the first time in more than half a century.
Migration issues at forefront of U.S.-Cuba talks to re-establish relationsFor the first time in more than three decades, high level talks are underway between the U.S. and Cuba. CCTV America’s Michael Voss reported this story from Havana.
Wednesday’s talks were on migration issues. Every year, the American consulate in Havana, which could soon be part of an embassy, issues about 20,000 visas for Cubans to emigrate to the U.S. But there is also a U.S. law, known as “Wet Foot, Dry Foot,” which says that any Cuban who can reach the U.S. illegally will be fast-tracked into permanent residency.
Cuban officials regularly complain this encourages illegal migration and people smuggling, and it was a key complaint at these talks.
“Only one nationality in the world receives this preferential treatment, and it leads to irregular and illegal movements of people between Cuba and the United States. It’s in nobody’s interest,” Josefina Vidal head of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division said.
The U.S. position, though, is that there are no plans to repeal the law or change the policy.
“My government is completely committed to upholding the Cuban Adjustment Act that the sets of migration relation policies that are colloquially known as “wet foot dry foot” very much remain in effect,” Alex Lee, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South America and Cuba said.
Issues such as the continued U.S. trade embargo and Cuba’s one-party political system are likely to be part of Thursday’s discussions.
The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in 1961 after Fidel Castro nationalized U.S. businesses without compensation and turned Cuba into the only communist country in Americas.
Washington then backed a failed invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. While Cuba allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles on the island and later sent troops to fight in Africa.
These days, instead of soldiers, it is Cuban medical brigades helping fight Ebola in Africa.
In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, U.S. President Barak Obama spoke of the benefits he hopes to achieve in restoring diplomatic relations.
“Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said.
No one is expecting the issue of re-opening the embassies to be resolved this week. But both sides appear determined to move quickly on the issue. It’s not about normalizing relations, a senior Cuban official said, it’s about re-establishing diplomatic relations. Normalization will take much longer.
New York state to send trade mission to Cuba
New York’s governor has announced one of the first U.S. trade missions to Cuba to promote New York businesses and the state as a destination for investment. New York City is home to the second largest Cuban community in the United States and reactions to closer ties are mixed. Karina Huber reported this story from New York.
New York state to send trade mission to CubaNew York's governor has announced one of the first U.S. trade missions to Cuba to promote New York businesses and the state as a destination for investment. New York City is home to the second largest Cuban community in the United States and reactions to closer ties are mixed. Karina Huber reported this story from New York.
Cuban restaurant Rincon Criollo is a family-run business that began in Havan and ended in New York City. The family that runs it fled the island in 1962 after their restaurant was seized by government officials. For many Cuban Americans living in New York, Rincon feels like home, a home many escaped from and never returned to.
“I live in this country for 35 years. I left in 1980,” Cuban American Orlando Dominguez said.
Dominguez could return as new rules make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba.
“The only people who are going to get benefits is the communist people, Castro, and the government of the United States. But regular people, old people, are not going to see the benefits,” Dominguez said.
Many older Cuban Americans who experienced Cuba before and after Castro agree. However polls show that younger Cuban Americans tend to want an end to the embargo and support a closer relationship.
Cuban American Armando Suarez Cobian, who left Cuba in 1991, said the embargo isn’t working and that it’s used as a political tool for both countries.
U.S. President Barack Obama supports lifting the embargo and called on Congress to pass such a bill in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Congress members have had differing views on the embargo, but there has been pressure from business groups eyeing Cuba to vote in support of lifting the embargo.
U.S. travel to Cuba will get easier
Cuba lies less than 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of the United States, yet for more than half a century it has been a forbidden island for most Americans. While U.S. citizens still can’t go there as tourists, it’s now much easier to visit Cuba for range of reasons, such as for educational, religious or cultural tours. CCTV’s Michael Voss reported this story from Havana.
U.S. travel to Cuba will get easierCuba lies less than 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of the United States, yet for more than half a century it has been a forbidden island for most Americans. While U.S. citizens still can't go there as tourists, it's now much easier to visit Cuba for range of reasons, such as for educational, religious or cultural tours. CCTV’s Michael Voss reported this story from Havana.
Americans traveling to Cuba must complete loads of paperwork and prepare months in advance. Under the new travel rules, such visits should be easier to plan.
“I think it’s a necessary evolution of the relationship, and I really hope that Cuba is able to hold onto the best of what came out of the revolution,” U.S. theater director Brad Learmonth who is planning on a cultural visit to Cuba said.
Tourism is one of Cuba’s major industries. Last year, it attracted 3 million visitors including about 100,000 U.S. citizens on licensed trips. Those numbers are now expected to rise dramatically. Already in high season, most of the hotels are fully booked.
One five-star hotel in Havana is currently being built by a French construction company, one of several new hotels sprouting up in the city.
It will take several years before there are enough new hotels to meet the needs of American travelers, but there is no shortage of modern private restaurants.
Dozens of Cubans have taken advantage of the economic reforms to open new restaurants that will accept U.S. credit cards.
While the tourist ban and U.S. trade embargo with Cuba still stands, it will now be much easier to visit this once forbidden city.
Author Arturo Lopez-Levy of Mills College discusses US-Cuba ties
CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes interviewed Author Arturo Lopez-Levy, the co-author of “Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close Up View of Change” and a visiting lecturer at Mills College about US-Cuba ties.