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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – The highest ranking U.S. delegation to visit Cuba in 35 years has arrived Havana for two days of negotiations.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson heads up the delegation. The meetings are a first since President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced that they were moving to normalize relations between the two countries.
In his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made his case for seizing the opening with Cuba by ending the U.S. trade embargo of the island.
“We are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date,” Obama said. “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said normalizing relations with Cuba while the people there remain oppressed will do more harm than good.
“Despite rhetoric by the President that an opening of relations would foster democracy and improve human rights, the Cuban people remain oppressed, as basic freedoms continue to be curtailed,” said Ros-Lehtinen in statement.
“We all want to see a free and democratic Cuba, but holding these misguided talks with the Cuban regime will have the opposite effect and serve to further embolden and entrench the regime, not bring about desperately needed reforms,” she concludes.
Wednesday’s conversations start with a continuation of efforts by both sides in recent years to promote what the State Department calls “safe, legal and orderly migration,” covering everything from the security of charter flights that travel regularly between Miami and Havana to rooting out fraudulent passports and partnering on potential search and rescue missions.
Thursday’s talks are trickier, dealing with the mechanics of re-establishing a U.S. Embassy in Havana headed by an ambassador, and a Cuban Embassy in Washington.
A senior Cuban official has said that restoring diplomatic ties won’t necessarily lead to a full relationship between the two countries. The U.S. has taken “steps in the right direction but there’s still far to go,” the official noted. He expressed optimism about the long-term prospects for U.S.-Cuban relations as long as Washington does not try to change Cuba’s single-party government and centrally planned economy — tenets of Cuba’s system the U.S. has long opposed.
Cuba is expected to tell the U.S. that it wants off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
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