Sunday, April 12, 2015
By Isaac Risco
A “historic” gathering with an open ending, the Panama Summit will be remembered as the scenario in which the presidents of the United States and Cuba turned to dialogue, but it will be just one more stop on a long road.
“We are ready to discuss everything, but we have to be patient, very patient,” said the president of Cuba, Raul Castro, during his meeting with his US counterpart in Panama City.
Barack Obama also acknowledged that both parties will often “disagree”, but hoped they do so “with respect”.
Full normalization of relations between Washington and Havana will be a “long process, difficult and complex,” predicted Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, when he appeared before the press to discuss the historical dialogue between Obama and Castro.
Despite the thaw between the two countries, “profound differences” persist that will not be easy to remedy. Even the planned reopening of embassies is without a date. Rodriguez could not even confirm when the fourth round of the negotiations who occur. The talks began in January.
The United States has not yet announced the removal of Cuba from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism, noted Rodriguez, which is currently seen as one of the main obstacles to the advancement of the diplomatic rapprochement.
In Panama there was speculation that Washington would announce the removal of Cuba from the “black list” during the days of the summit. The list, in effect since 1982, currently includes Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. The White House said that the evaluation process has concluded, but the decision is not taken.
Obama attributed the inaction to a temporary issue. “I’ve been traveling and I want to make sure I have a chance to read it (evaluation),” he explained.
Rodriguez also called for a prompt solution to the problem faced by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington because no bank will handle its accounts, due to ramifications of the US embargo on the island. The building is destined to become the next Cuban Embassy.
Even when praising Obama for approving measures to ease the embargo, Rodriguez was critical: “Cuba appreciates the very limited steps taken by the US government,” he said.
But Washington has repeatedly stressed since it began diplomatic negotiations with the Castro administration that it will continue to support Cuban dissidents. “Our governments will continue to have differences,” Obama noted in Panama.
Before his first greeting with Castro at the summit, the US President even received two Cuban dissidents, along with 13 other civil society activists from around the continent. The anti-Castro opponents had participated in the civil society forum that took place in the days before the summit, in which there were several incidents between Castro supporters and dissidents.
“Nobody thought that decades of mistrust and suspicion were going to disappear overnight,” said Michael Shifter of the Washington Inter-American Dialogue think tank before the summit.
Full normalization of relations with Cuba in the region itself will be a difficult task. To date, Havana refuses to return to the Organization of American States (OAS), despite the body lifting six years ago its 1962 sanctions against Cuba.
The government of Raul Castro rejects the OAS, traditionally seeing it as an “instrument of domination” of Washington in the region.
“Rapprochement, if any, will occur in the coming years, through other UN agencies,” predicted the outgoing OAS general secretary, José Miguel Insulza, in a conversation with dpa in Panama.
The new secretary, Luis Almagro, said he expects to achieve the return of Cuba during his mandate.
BY PERRY BACON JR.