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One year on, embargo still overshadows US-Cuba thaw

One year on, embargo still overshadows US-Cuba thaw
By Alexandre Grosbois

Havana (AFP) – Thursday marks one year since the United States and Cuba
surprised the world by announcing they would end decades of Cold War
hostility, but the budding rapprochement is still overshadowed by the US

After months of secret negotiations, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul
Castro announced last December 17 that they were ready to bury the
hatchet after more than half a century of enmity between the small
communist island and the capitalist behemoth across the Florida Straits.

Since then, there has been one history-making photo op after another,
from Obama’s and Castro’s handshake at a regional summit in Panama in
April, to the reopening of embassies in July, to the homecoming of a
group of defected Cuban baseball stars Tuesday.

Along the way, the US removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of

But relations remain limited by the trade and financial embargo the
United States has imposed on the island since 1962.

The Obama administration has chipped at its edges where it can, easing
restrictions on travel and sending money to Cuba, for example.

But it is unlikely to persuade Congress to lift the embargo anytime soon.

To many in the Republican party that controls both houses, Castro and
his big brother Fidel remain bitter enemies of both the United States
and the Cuban people.

The embargo still bars Americans from investing in Cuba or visiting the
island for tourism, and threatens companies that do business there with
heavy fines that can reach into the billions of dollars, even for non-US

The countries are far from having a real trade relationship, said Maria
de la Luz B’Hamel, the Cuban trade ministry’s top official for North

“It’s not possible to talk about normal relations while there’s an
economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the United States on
Cuba that has really not changed substantially,” she told AFP.

View gallery
Cubans and tourists in front of the US Embassy in Havana, on July 20,
2015 (AFP Photo/Adalberto Roqu …
The US says the ball is in Cuba’s court.

“More could be done on the Cuban side to take advantage of new
openings,” said the top American diplomat in Havana, Charge d’Affaires
Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

“Just as we are doing our part, we urge the Cuban government to make it
less difficult for its citizens to start businesses, to engage in trade
and access information online,” he told journalists.

Cuba has remained “cautious” in its response to US overtures, said Jorge
Duany of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

“Many of the unilateral measures proposed by the US government — such
as authorizing air and maritime transport, exporting communications
technology and allowing credit cards for authorized transactions — have
still not been reciprocated by the Cuban government,” he said.

– ‘No McDonald’s, no freedom’ –

For Cubans, although the thaw has fueled an increase in tourism —
arrivals were up 15 percent in the first half of 2015 — the political
and economic situation remains largely unchanged.

Dissident journalist Yoani Sanchez complained Tuesday that the promised
transformation had yet to arrive, in a blog post entitled “Still no
McDonald’s, still no freedom.”

“2015 was supposed to be the year of economic lift-off and opening, but
12 months on the reality remains very far from the dream,” she wrote.

The Castro regime’s crackdowns on dissent remain a source of discord.

Obama said Monday that he would “very much” like to visit Cuba, but that
such a trip would have a prerequisite: “progress in the liberty and
freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans.”

The comment came days after Cuba marked international Human Rights Day
by detaining dozens of opposition activists or barring them from leaving
their homes to prevent anti-regime protests.

Cuba is prickly about criticism on such matters, insisting its
“sovereignty” be respected.

The two countries have nevertheless managed to open talks on a series of
delicate issues, including normalizing immigration — Cuban migrants who
arrive in the US are currently fast-tracked for citizenship, a policy
Havana detests — and outstanding claims for compensation from both sides.

Washington is seeking $7 billion to $8 billion for American citizens and
companies whose property was confiscated in the wake of the Cuban
Revolution, while Havana wants compensation for its losses under the
embargo — an estimated $121 billion, it says.

At least one other diplomatic minefield meanwhile remains untouched: the
future of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Source: One year on, embargo still overshadows US-Cuba thaw – Yahoo News;_ylt=AwrC0CYteHFWJmAAtYHQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTByOHZyb21tBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

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