The U.S. and Cuba held the fourth Bilateral Commission in Washington, D.C., on Friday, September 30.
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte led the U.S. delegation, supported by Chargé d’Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer, and Chief of Staff and Director of Policy Planning Jon Finer. The Cuban delegation was led by Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, supported by Cuban Ambassador to the United States Jose Ramon Cabanas.
The Bilateral Commission advances the normalization process between the U.S. and Cuba. The meeting took place in a cooperative and productive environment. The U.S. and Cuban delegations discussed the way forward on key issues such as agriculture, health, environmental protection, economic engagement, science and technology, civil aviation, regulatory affairs, claims, culture and education, law enforcement, nonproliferation, trafficking in persons, human rights, maritime borders, and migration.
Comments made by Cuban authorities suggest the commission atmosphere was less than congenial. The issue involved a program funded by the U.S. State Department to bring group of Cuban teenagers for a month-long summer visit to the U.S.
According to the Washing-based NGO, World Learning, the Cuban youths spent ten days learning about community service, followed by two-week stays with families in Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and Missouri. The Cuban teens volunteered at food banks and recycling centers and read books to young children.
According to an AP report, Cuban officials said their main concern was that the NGO had directly recruited Cuban students without the government’s permission.
“University students condemn new Yankee manipulation,” declared a headline in red ink above the lead story in Thursday’s edition of Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper.
“We insisted once again that the financing of programs aimed at provoking internal change in Cuba needs to be eliminated, which would be an essential step toward normalizing bilateral relations,” Cuba’s director-general of U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said in a video posted as part of a question-and-answer session on Twitter.
The next Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana in December 2016.
One key theme in President Obama’s is to increase opportunity for Americans and improve the lives of the Cuban people, including opening the door to increased travel and commerce between the two countries.
Educational exchange is a major part of this focus, and Obama has funded and organized partnerships to promote an academic and entrepreneurial dialogue a several fronts.
For the first time, Cuba will be included as a participating country in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, which brings 200 outstanding mid-career professionals from developing countries to the United States for non-degree study and related professional experiences, and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which offers grants for US undergraduates of limited financial means to pursue academic studies or internships abroad.
As part of the President’s visit to Cuba, the United States is proud to announce a new $1 million commitment from the Cuban American community to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which provides opportunities to create university partnerships that enhance regional competitiveness and provide new study abroad opportunities. This funding will support Cuba-specific Innovation Competitions in both countries, to advance student exchanges focused on entrepreneurship, with a secondary focus on agricultural management, business and social innovation, environmental and sustainable energy, language learning, international trade and development, study abroad infrastructure, and cultural collaborations.
The 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund will also launch the 10th Innovation Competition: Promoting Study Abroad Partnerships for Innovation and Collaboration. This competition is supported through a contribution from Santander Bank as part of their $1 million commitment to 100,000 Strong in the Americas. All higher educational institutions in the Western Hemisphere that promote study abroad programs between the US and other countries in the hemisphere are eligible to compete.
At the request of and in coordination with the Cuban Government, the US will send English-language specialists to work with the Cuban Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education for programs to support English teacher training this spring and summer. The US also will offer a selection of online courses for Cuban teachers of English from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education later this year.
Over 250 young leaders from the US and the region will take part in Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) fellowships this year that enable them to develop joint business and civil society initiatives while at universities, businesses, and other institutions in the US. The United States will welcome 10-15 Cuban participants among the 250 YLAI Fellows who will be in the US in the fall of 2016.
The US will invite up to 10 Cuban entrepreneurs to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Silicon Valley June 23-24. The event will include 700 entrepreneurs, representing every country in the world. A total of 100 entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean will participate. GES provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build new skills, grow their networks, and connect with peers, mentors, and investors from around the globe.
In June 2016, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal will travel to Cuba for a Sports Envoy Program focusing on youth in Havana. The program will be the first in which US Embassy in Havana will partner with the Cuban Ministry of Sports. In November 2016, Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first Principal Dancer of color, will travel to Cuba to conduct master classes and speaking engagements. She will also lead dance clinics for minority youth and hold inclusion workshops for coaches, with a special focus on building athletic programs for female youth.