Change in U.S. policy toward Cuba “already being felt”

The first adverse effects of the change in U.S. policy toward Cuba “is already being felt,” Josefina Vidal, general director for the United States at the island’s Foreign Ministry, stated last Friday.

At the closing of a seminar on relations between both countries, Vidal affirmed that Cuba has not only verbally extended its hand, but rather it “has taken concrete steps to maintain civilized and mutually beneficial relations.”

She also reiterated the Cuban government’s intention to continue the dialogue and cooperation “with no impositions or preconditions.”

However, she said, “one of parties’ will is not enough.”

According to Josefina Vidal, the effects of the new sanctions imposed by Washington are already having an impact on Americans’ trips to the island, which started to drop after registering a spectacular growth in the two previous years.

Between January and November they registered an increase of 248 percent thanks to the 579,288 visits to Cuba by U.S. citizens. To these are added the 386,388 trips by Cuban residents in the United States, which is why the total figure stands at approximately a million visitors.

“However, in recent weeks a notable decrease is appreciated in the pace of the growth due to the combined impact of the unusual travel warning of the Department of State and the government’s measures against the trips,” Vidal said.

In September the U.S. Department of State recommended to its nationals to not travel to Cuba for safety reasons, after alleged acoustic attacks were reported against U.S. diplomats in Havana, which are still under an ongoing investigation.

For that same reason most of its officials on the island were evacuated, which is why the consular services of the U.S. Embassy in Havana were reduced to a minimum and the issuing of visas was canceled, and proceedings must not be carried out in Colombia.

“Many Cubans have been unable to attend cultural, sports, scientific and academic events since they have not been able to get their visas in Havana and visits by dozens of U.S. groups, including university students, have been canceled,” Vidal commented.

Moreover, the Trump administration expelled 15 officials from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, which also affected the island’s consular activities in the United States.

Cuba has repeatedly denied its responsibility in the incidents and has asked the U.S. government for greater collaboration to clear up what happened. It has even questioned the veracity of the “incidents” for lack of evidences provided by the U.S. side.

New measures and Cuban response

In November the United States deepened the gap in bilateral relations when it issued new restrictions that ban doing business with enterprises linked to the Cuban armed forces and intelligence service and eliminate the popular individual trips to the island in the “people-to-people” category.

These measures “generate confusion in terms of what is permitted or not, they have an intimidating and dissuasive effect and confirm the serious rollback that has taken place in relations between both countries,” Josefina Vidal explained.

In addition, she regretted that those steps have “been accompanied by repeated disrespectful and offensive statements toward Cuba by President (Donald) Trump…which retake the hostile rhetoric of the periods of greatest confrontation, adding an additional negative component that strains the bilateral atmosphere.”

Other adverse effects mentioned by Vidal were the Department of State’s refusal to authorize officials to participate in scientific events in Cuba, and the penalization of cooperation in terms of health and the environment.

The diplomat said that the U.S. government decided to hold in Washington meetings of the principal bodies for bilateral dialogue which had already been included in the agenda for Havana.

On the other hand, according to Vidal, Cuba “has taken concrete steps” to continue advancing in bilateral relations.

She mentioned the presentation of “seven plans for the implementation of the memorandums of understanding signed for cooperation in areas like hydrography and geodesy, protected areas, seismology, meteorology, cancer control, animal and plant health and the twinning of national parks.”

The Cuban government also reiterated proposals for joint cooperation in confronting the traffic in persons, terrorism and migratory fraud, money laundering, among other issues, together with scientific collaboration and patents rights.

“We are waiting for the replies,” she affirmed.

Vidal affirmed that despite the cooling of relations, the “interest and persistence” of companies from both countries has lately allowed for reaching new business deals in prioritized sectors like transportation, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism, and others are being negotiated in the areas of health, energy and biotechnology.

Cuba, she said, will continue “working with all persons of goodwill in the United States, aware that there is a generalized consensus in both countries’ societies in favor of improving relations between our countries and peoples.”

This December 17 it was three years since the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the U.S. after almost six decade of enmity, a change of policy promoted by then President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, and which Donald Trump decided to roll back.

EFE / OnCuba

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