The first round of talks between the US and Cuba began in January 2015, thirteen months after President Obama announced the normalization of relations.
Leading talks and representing Cuba was Josefina Vidal, general director of Cuba’s U.S. Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, she has been at the table, negotiating and constructing the foundations of Cuban-U.S. relations.
Ms. Vidal’s long career in diplomacy started in 1979 when she was selected to study international relations in Moscow. Upon graduation, she returned to Cuba, dedicating herself to understanding relations between Cuban and its North American neighbors. In 1999 she was appointed as First Secretary in the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC that saw her first thrust into the limelight over the Elian Gonzalez custody battle.
Ms. Vidal sat down with Jorge Legañoa Alonso of Cuba News Agency (ACN) to discuss what she considers to be the important points in constructing the foundation for diplomatic relations between the two countries and what the future holds in 2016.
After the progress made in 2015, Ms. Vidal told ACN that she remains optimistic that relations between the two countries will continue to grow.
“There is only a year left to work with the current administration and, on Cuba’s part, there is a commitment to continue advancing and we see a lot of possibilities of achieving our objective,” said Ms. Vidal.
Since diplomatic relations have been reestablished, Ms. Vidal said that Cuba and the U.S. have already signed joint declarations in addressing the environment and drug trafficking.
On the agenda moving forward in 2016, Ms. Vidal said that establishing an agreement for regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba is key and airlines representatives have said they hope to begin services as early as mid-2016.
She also said that the two nations are also hoping to establish postal service flights.
With all of these steps forward, Ms. Vidal said that it’s unlikely that their work could be undone come the 2016 presidential elections, but the future president could repeal some executive actions.
However, Ms. Vidal is quick to point out what she sees as several contradicting U.S. policies and laws that destabilize Cuba that must be addressed and changed before the countries completely normalize relations.
U.S. policies like the “Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy,” as well as the Cuban Adjustment Act and the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals promote irregular exodus from the island, Ms. Vidal said. If the appropriate U.S. agencies and authorities repeal these laws, Ms. Vidal said this could eliminate illegal migration and potentially eradicate human trafficking,
“There are bandits attempting to benefit from the policy and submitting our brothers and sisters to atrocities due to extortion, mistreatment and abusing women at times,” Ms. Vidal said.
Finally, Ms. Vidal challenged President Obama to take action to stop the blockades on the island that, she says, would be beneficial to both nations.
“The President has the authority to maneuver and it is in his favor to take more steps because those taken up until now are limited. They are positive, but there is still more for him to do,” Ms. Vidal said.
Below is a clip of Ms. Vidal’s interview with ACN in Spanish.
(Photos Courtesy of ACN/Abel Padrón Padilla)