One year on, US-Cuba relationship not yet “normal,” — experts

By Yasmine El-Sabawi

WASHINGTON, June 30 (KUNA) — American hotel giant Starwood announced the opening of a Four Points Sheraton in Havana this week, while earlier this month, six major US airlines were given the green light to begin commercial flights to Cuba. In May, Carnival cruise lines began week-long trips to the island.
The State Department has even designated a Sports Envoy to Cuba, sending world-renowned basketball star Shaquille O’Neal there this week “to encourage positive ties” between Cubans and Americans.
But experts argue that while President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba will be remembered as one of his landmark foreign policy achievements, one year on, things are not as “normal” as they could be.
Philip Brenner, a senior professor specializing in US-Cuba relations at American University told KUNA that the status quo is “far from normalized relations.” The economic embargo on the island remains in place since 1962, and only Congress has the authority to lift it, he said.
On his historic trip to meet with Castro in March, Obama urged US lawmakers to lift the sanctions, calling them “an outdated burden on the Cuban people.” Cuba says it has lost upwards of USD 1 trillion in economic opportunities.
Brenner suggested it was very unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress will take any action on the issue before the November election.
The president “cut into the embargo” via executive orders to encourage US companies to develop greater internet access in Cuba and allow US banks to accept Cuban customers, but without “normal trade relations,” truly normalized ties cannot exist, he said.
The other major “impediment” to that kind of relationship lies in decades of US efforts to undermine Cuba’s political system and Cuban authorities, Brenner added.
US funding for critics of the Castro regime, and its programs to “ferment dissent” among Cubans have resulted in suspicion and mistrust on the island, he said.
In the spring of 2014, US media reports uncovered a program by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which recruited young Cubans for anti-government activism. The same day Obama and Castro announced they would resume relations – December 17, 2014 – the head of USAID Rajiv Shah announced he would be stepping down. A “normal relationship” must be “transparent” and “built on trust” and “goodwill,” Brenner said.
The agency is still offering contracts for what it describes as its democracy programs, and even approached Brenner with an offer, he revealed.
Initiatives like The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which encourages Cuba’s doctors and nurses on aid missions around the world to defect has admitted 7,000 people to the US so far, Brenner said. Obama has the power to end the program, because it was instituted in 2006 by an executive order from President George W. Bush.
The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 also remains a point of contention, because no other country’s immigrants are afforded the privileges given to Cubans, Brenner said. To this day, any Cuban that reaches American soil is automatically granted political asylum, despite the fact that many now arrive for economic reasons, he explained. “Obama can modify it,” Brenner said. “He hasn’t done that.” Besides the issue of migration, there is “little else” the president can do.
As for the Guantanamo Bay naval base, which has been occupied by the US since the early 1900s, a handover would probably take several years, Brenner said, comparing it to the US handover of the Panama Canal to Panama.
But Castro has demanded it back without making “room for negotiation,” Brenner said The day after his inauguration, Obama vowed to close the notorious prison, but 79 inmates remain there today.
“The worst human rights violations in Cuba [are the ones that] occur in Guantanamo,” Brenner said. (end) ys.gta

Related Post
أبوظبي، الإمارات العربية المتحدة، 16 أكتوبر 2017 /PRNewswire/ — شهد مساء 14 أكتوبر مراسم افتتاح
لاجوس، نيجيريا، 17 أكتوبر 2017/ PRNewswire/– عُقد المنتدى السنوي الثالث لمؤسسة توني ايلو ميلو (TEF)
أبوظبي، الإمارات العربية المتحدة 15 أكتوبر 2017 — تم افتتاح المنتدى الرابع لشبكة مشغلي وحدات