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Despite Diplomatic Thaw US-Cuba Issues Remain

August 14, 2015

by Ken Bredemeier

Several issues from the half century of hostilities between the U.S. and Cuba still remain, despite the re-opening of diplomatic ties.

Cuban dissidents, long courted by U.S. officials for their opposition to Fidel and Raul Castro, the two brothers who have ruled the island nation for five decades, were not been invited to Kerry's ceremony at the U.S. embassy on Havana's waterfront for fear it would risk a boycott of the event by Cuban officials.

But Kerry, the top American diplomat, is meeting later with a small group of the dissidents at the home of the chief of the U.S. mission. He also plans to meet with some government officials and the head of Cuba's Catholic Church, but not with the Castros.

In an interview Wednesday with the Telemundo network, Kerry described the formal flag-raising as "a government-to-government moment, with very limited space, by the way, which is why we're having the reception later in the day at which we can have a cross-section of civil society including some dissidents.

"The message is, No. 1, that we believe our engaging in direct diplomatic relations with the Cuban government being there, being able to interact with the people of Cuba, will in fact, help the people of Cuba,'' he said.

Cuba is located 145 kilometers off the southeastern U.S. coast, but the two countries broke off diplomatic ties in 1961 after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. The current Cuban leader, President Raul Castro, and U.S. President Barack Obama announced a resumption in formal relations last December and talks have been held since then to ease business, trade and travel restrictions.

​​Dissidents, human trafficking

But significant issues remain between the two countries despite Obama's decision to renew diplomatic links. Much of the Cuban exile community in Florida, the closest U.S. state to Cuba, opposes opening relations with the Castro government, as do many of Obama's Republican political opponents.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 Republican presidential contender to succeed Obama, described the State Department's recent upgrade of Cuba's standing in its annual human trafficking report as "politically driven" and said the country has done "almost nothing" to curb child sex tourism on the island.

"The administration's unfounded elevation of Cuba on human trafficking sends a chilling message that the U.S., at least under this president, is more interested in headlines about its historic Cuba policy than it is in challenging the Castro regime to protect Cuba's youth from human trafficking exploitation," Rubio wrote to Kerry.

The report upgraded Cuba from the lowest "Tier 3" ranking to the "Tier 2 Watch List" reserved for countries deserving special scrutiny, even as the report was still highly critical of Havana.

​​Press freedom

The president of a major Washington journalism group, John Hughes of the National Press Club, urged Kerry this week to make news media freedom and Internet access in Cuba a priority for U.S. policy makers.

"It's hard to imagine human rights, labor conditions, and corruption in the country getting any better absent the public accounting that comes with a reasonably free press," Hughes said. "Therefore, the United States should use all tools at its disposal, including diplomatic and economic, to support unrestricted reporting and the dissemination of information in Cuba."


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