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Castro negotiator waits for Biden to undo Trump’s ‘cruel’ policy

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Castro negotiator waits for Biden to undo Trump’s ‘cruel’ policy

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(Bloomberg) – Donald Trump’s policies toward Cuba are now Joe Biden’s and are taking a heavy toll on the Caribbean nation, according to the Cuban diplomat who negotiated the 2015 rapprochement with the United States.

Almost five months after the Biden administration, officials in Havana are surprised to see that the White House’s stance so far has not changed, Ambassador to Canada Josefina Vidal said in an interview. Citing President Biden’s campaign promises, he said Cuba expected the US leader to revoke “at least the most cruel measures” imposed by his predecessor.

Trump aggressively tightened the screws on Cuba, which his administration blamed for thwarting attempts to topple Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and continuing to abuse human rights in the country. Under Trump, the United States prohibited cruise ships from stopping on the island, restricted flights and curbed American remittances.

Trump also allowed lawsuits to be filed for property seized during the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power and, in his final weeks in office, put Cuba back on the U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism.

“Since then we have seen that everything has gotten worse,” Vidal said Monday in Ottawa. “We have seen foreign banks close the accounts of many Cuban entities. We have seen international foreign suppliers suspend their contracts with Cuba. “

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His comments come as the communist nation tries to renegotiate its debt while reeling under tougher sanctions and the fallout from Covid-19, which has wiped out its vital tourism industry. Vidal, who was Raúl Castro’s main negotiator in the run-up to Barack Obama’s visit to Havana in March 2016, said that while Trump’s four years seriously damaged the trust established during that process, Cuba remains “willing to continue to build a civilized and respectful society. ” relationship with the United States “.

The Biden administration is reviewing Trump’s policies toward Havana, but has signaled that changing relations with the island is not a priority. Trump’s tough approach to Cuba and Venezuela helped him garner greater support in the South Florida Latino community, which contributed to his efforts to maintain the state and his 29 Electoral College votes in last year’s election. .

‘Gun Shy’

Cuba watchers hope that the political dynamic, along with the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cuban-American Bob Menéndez, will prevent any bold move by Biden to scrap the Trump-era restrictions.

“Perceptions in the Florida Democratic Party operation that the Cuba issue caused electoral damage in the 2020 presidential campaign, along with the outspoken role of some prominent Democratic senators, will likely make the White House timid,” Mark Entwistle , a former Canadian ambassador to Cuba who is now managing director of Toronto-based Acasta Cuba Capital, said by email Tuesday. “At least perhaps until after the midterm legislative elections, those should succeed in providing additional respite.”

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State Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Biden’s approach to Cuba.

Events on the island could also eventually help loosen ties between the United States and Cuba.

For the first time since 1959, neither the president of the country nor the head of the Communist Party of Cuba is called Castro. Although Vidal said that Cuba will continue to perfect its socialist system under the presidency of Miguel Díaz-Canel, “the leadership of the party is now in the hands of a generation that was born after the Cuban revolution.”

Díaz-Canel takes the reins of the party with Cuba facing its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. His deputy prime minister is in Paris this week to talk with creditors about unpaid promissory notes held from abroad worth $ 17.8 billion in 2017, the Cuban government’s most recently published tally.

Although Vidal is no longer responsible for relations with the United States, he said his administration’s priorities should Washington come back to the table would likely be self-evident: in addition to reducing travel and remittances, deactivating Title III of the Helms Act. -Burton, which allows lawsuits for seized assets – is key, along with removing Cuba from the “fraudulent and unjust” terror list.

Those will be tough sales in the United States Congress, where Republicans and Democrats evenly divide the Senate and Democrats have only a narrow majority in the House.

Cuba also wants to see an end to U.S. attempts to stop oil deliveries to the island by targeting shipping companies, insurance providers, and even specific vessels bound for Cuba as priority policies that Havana would like to see changed. Vidal said.

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“These are the kinds of measures that are not taken in normal and peaceful times. It’s like a wartime measure. “

However, getting the United States to re-engage will not be easy.

“The Gordian knot is that Cubans are consistent in insisting that there are no preconditions for talks between equal sovereigns, while Americans traditionally insist on conditionality as well,” Entwistle said.

“The Cubans could perhaps reiterate to the Biden Administration that, without prejudice to their sovereignty, they have an open mind to regional and global issues of importance to the United States,” he added.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP

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