“No, we have no illusions that any of this will be easy”

Tom Malinowski (Flickr)
Tom Malinowski (Flickr)

Since December 17, Cuba has not been the same. Discussions, questions and expectations have multiplied among us since the announcement from Barack Obama and Raul Castro about the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. We citizens have a lot of questions about the process and its influence on the future of our country.

Tom Malinowski, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has responded to some of these questions for  14ymedio. Today we present his answers to our readers.

Question: The United States has taken several measures to relax its policies toward Cuba. Has the Cuban government presented a list of measures it is also willing to change in its politics towards the United States?  

Answer: It's important to stress that the steps President Obama announced are not things the Cuban government asked for.  They are steps we wanted to take to empower the Cuban people.  The aim is to strengthen the Cuban people's ability to change their government's policies by giving them better access to resources and information, and to improve the lives of Cuban citizens who have had to endure unnecessary social, economic, and political restrictions from their government.  Meanwhile, the Cuban government has indicated that it will release 53 political prisoners, a first step that was very important to us, and to allow the Cuban people greater access to the internet.  We have no illusions that any of this will be easy, but we feel there is now an opportunity and we will press hard.

Question: Will President Obama or Secretary Kerry visit Cuba in the coming months? Does a visit from either President Obama or Secretary Kerry conflict with the fact that the U.S. embargo against Cuba is still in place? 

Answer: President Obama said that going forward, high-ranking US officials will visit Cuba.  In January, our Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, will travel to Cuba to lead the US delegation to the US-Cuba Migration talks.  I hope to travel to Cuba soon, too.  Secretary of State Kerry has said he looks forward to eing the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.  As for the embargo, US law prohibits certain transactions with Cuban government agencies.  President Obama announced modification of the rules to facilitate the flow of resources and information to the Cuban people.  But in any case, high level visits are part of normal diplomatic relations between countries.

Question: Is the opening and legalization of a free and independent press in Cuba among the topics that are being or will be discussed between the two countries? 

Answer: Yes.  A critical focus of our policy will be strong support for civil society and the right of all Cubans to freedom of expression, assembly, association and the press.  We will encourage such reforms in all of our  engagements with the Cuban government, and working with other countries from Latin America to Europe.  We will continue to implement programs funded by the US Congress to expand fundamental freedoms, including a free press, and support the free flow of information.  The changes President Obama announced take away one of the excuses the Cuban government has used to persecute Cuban citizens who work for these goals, and places the focus where it belongs -- on the government's own policies.

Question: Do you have a timeline that shows how the measures announced today will be implemented? If so, when will it be released to the public?

Answer: President Obama wants to move quickly to realize the vision he expressed in his remarks.  The Secretary of State and all members of the president's cabinet have a sense of urgency in pursuing the opportunities presented by the president's new policy.  The changes in our regulations to expand travel and trade will occur promptly; normalization of relations depends on the Cuban government as well as on the US and that is what Assistant Secretary Jacobson will be addressing in January.

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