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    US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro

    US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro
    POSTED: MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2015 9:05 PM | UPDATED: 11:45 PM, MON JAN
    19, 2015.
    Associated Press |

    HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s foreign minister told a group of U.S. senators and
    congressmen Monday that his country is open to greater diplomatic and
    trade ties but the congressional delegation did not meet President Raul
    Castro, the man who will make many of the key decisions about the new
    U.S.-Cuban relationship.
    The U.S. delegation was led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who played a key role
    in the release of American contractor Alan Gross as part of a prisoner
    exchange that paved the way for the move toward full diplomatic
    relations. Leahy met with Castro on past trips to Cuba but did not do so
    again on Monday, two days before Assistant Secretary of State Roberta
    Jacobson arrives in Havana to negotiate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy.
    The delegation met for several hours with Foreign Minister Bruno
    Rodriguez, who told the legislators that Cuba welcomed President Barack
    Obama’s loosening of the U.S. trade embargo, which would permit more
    travel to Cuba and economic links including exports of
    telecommunications equipment and wholesale goods for use by the
    country’s small private sector.
    “He’s open to every single issue from trade to communications,” Leahy
    told reporters before leaving Havana. “He talked about the travel back
    and forth, medical issues. Name an issue, he’s involved.”
    Leahy and five other Democratic senators and representatives were trying
    to ease the reestablishment of full relations by conveying to Cuban
    officials that their actions in the coming months will influence
    Congressional openness to Obama’s reforms. At the same time, they are
    trying to get a sense of the biggest mystery hanging over the new stage
    of U.S.-Cuban relations: how will Castro’s government respond to the
    U.S. push to expand diplomatic relations and trade ties?
    Cuba has so far offered a guardedly positive reception to Obama’s
    loosening of the trade embargo on Cuba, saying it welcomes the full
    package of new economic ties on offer, from sales of telecommunications
    equipment to exports to the private business sector. But it insists it
    will maintain its one-party political system and centrally planned economy.
    It has released 53 prisoners on a list of dissidents the U.S. wanted
    freed, but said nothing about whether it will allow U.S. products to
    flow to Cuba without the staggering taxes and regulations that keep many
    other foreign products from reaching ordinary Cubans.
    With formal diplomatic relations highly restricted, some of the most
    significant U.S.-Cuban contacts in recent years have been carried out by
    Congressional delegations. While Obama’s actions fall under executive
    authority and don’t require Congressional approval, legislators could
    hinder key measures including the removal of Cuba from the list of state
    sponsors of terror.
    On Saturday, the delegation met with officials from Cuba’s Culture
    Ministry in order to discuss possible Cuban participation in the
    Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival, a summer celebration of
    traditional art and culture on Washington’s National Mall. The senators
    met Sunday with more than a dozen dissidents including critics of the
    18-month-old secret negotiations that led to last month’s announcement.
    “It was a friendly meeting, they heard the different positions, but the
    senators are very much in favor of Obama’s measures and want to hear
    that we agree,” said Antonio Rodiles, who criticizes the Obama
    administration for failing to win enough guarantees of reform from
    Castro. “I said the process took place without transparency or taking
    the full range of opinions into account.”
    Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Human Rights and National
    Reconciliation Commission, a Cuban non-governmental organization
    tracking political detentions, said that meeting participants had
    delivered a list of 24 long-term prisoners whom they wanted to see
    released in addition to the 53 on the Obama administration’s list.
    On Monday, along with the possible meeting with Castro, the delegation
    will hold talks with lower-ranking Cuban officials in fields like
    agriculture, the environment and telecommunications.

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    Source: US delegation meets with Cuban officials, not Castro – World –