Cuban negotiator says US presidential election may endanger thaw in relations

AP | Wednesday, 13 January 2016 | Click here for original article

The lead negotiator in the Cuban government’s talks with the US said in an interview published on Tuesday that the American presidential campaign has added some uncertainty into how she views her country’s future relations with its northern neighbour.

Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban foreign ministry’s United States division, told the official Cuban news agency that if Barack Obama hurries to dismantle existing US sanctions on the island while he is still in power, the ties will be less vulnerable after he leaves.

“I will continue working with a high dose of momentum and optimism,” she said. “But I’m beginning to feel a certain bit of realism as the electoral process in the United States approaches; we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

There are “variables outside of our control” in the presidential contest, she added.

Supporters of rapprochement between the two countries worry that a new president may try to roll back advances made in the US-Cuba relationship under Obama’s leadership.

Obama and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, announced on 17 December 2014 that they would work toward normalisation, a move that led to the reopening of embassies in each other’s capitals last year.

Although only the US Congress has the power to do away with the embargo against the island, Obama could do much more to ensure that relations between the two countries are less vulnerable before the next November’s contest, the top Cuban diplomat said.

Vidal said she had read many opinions by academics, intellectuals and even members of the US Congress saying that the detente is “irreversible” but she insisted that “it isn’t that absolute”.

Among things Obama could do before he leaves the presidency, she said, would be to allow the use of the American dollar in bilateral business and permit direct financial transactions between banks in the United States and Cuba.

Vidal said Obama could also eliminate policies that he has power over as chief executive, such the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who step on American soil to stay in the US and apply for permanent residency.

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