Cuban President Raul Castro said last week that Cuba hopes to continue to normalize relations with the U.S, but clarified that the Island Nation would not accept concessions affecting matters of sovereignty.
“Cuba and the United States can cooperate and live side by side in a civilized manner, respecting our differences and promoting all that is of benefit for both countries and people,” Castro said in his government’s first remarks since Trump took office.
President Donald Trump has indicated his doubts about the future of the fragile detente between the former Cold War foes unless a “better deal” could be struck. Specifics were omitted from Trump’s tweets about the matter. The existing detente was architected by Raul Castro and former President Obama.
“But it should not hope that to achieve this Cuba will make concessions inherent to its independence and sovereignty,” Castro said, in a speech to a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in the Dominican Republic broadcast live on Cuban television last week.
Raul’s History with the U.S. Prior to Obama
After assuming power in 2006, Raúl Castro made several public offers to engage in dialogue that were rebuffed by U.S. officials who maintained that change in Cuba must precede a change in U.S. policy.
In an August 2006 interview, Raúl asserted that Cuba has “always been disposed to normalize relations on an equal plane,” but at the same time he expressed strong opposition to current U.S. policy toward Cuba, which he described as “arrogant and interventionist.”
In response, then Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon reiterated a U.S. offer to Cuba, first articulated by President Bush in May 2002, that the Administration was willing to work with Congress to lift U.S. economic sanctions if Cuba were to begin a political opening and a transition to democracy. According to Shannon, the Bush Administration remained prepared to work with Congress for ways to lift the embargo if Cuba is prepared to free political prisoners, respect human rights, permit the creation of independent organizations, and create a mechanism and pathway toward free and fair elections.
Raúl Castro again reiterated an offer to negotiate with the U.S. in a December 2006 speech. He said that, “we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, of course, provided they accept, as we have previously said, our condition as a country that will not tolerate any blemishes on its independence, and as long as said resolution is based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference, and mutual respect.”
Later, in a July 26, 2007 speech, Raúl reiterated for the third time an offer to engage in dialogue with the U.S., and strongly criticized U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba. This time, Raúl pointed to the future of relations with the next U.S. administration, and stated that “the new administration will have to decide whether it will keep the absurd, illegal, and failed policies against Cuba, or accept the olive branch that we extended.” He asserted that, “if the new U.S. authorities put aside arrogance and decide to talk in a civilized manner, they will be welcome. If not, we are willing to deal with their hostile policies for another 50 years if necessary.”
A U.S. State Department spokesman responded that “the only real dialogue that’s needed is with the Cuban people.” In the aftermath of Fidel’s announcement that he would step down as head of government, U.S. officials maintained there would be no change in U.S. policy – until 2014 when Raul and former President Obama announced a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations.