Wednesday 21 February 2018

Top Havana diplomat praises Barack Obama's 'positive' Cuba trip

American affairs diplomat Josefina Vidal said Barack Obama's visit had advanced relations between Cuba and the US (Cubadebate/AP)
American affairs diplomat Josefina Vidal said Barack Obama's visit had advanced relations between Cuba and the US (Cubadebate/AP)

US president Barack Obama's trip to Cuba advanced relations between the Cold War foes and created momentum for more co-operation on agriculture, medicine and law enforcement, one of the communist country's top diplomats has said.

Speaking after a meeting with American officials in Ha vana, director general of US affairs Josefina Vidal said President Raul Castro had seen his meeting with Mr Obama as producing "positive results".

Her portrayal contrasted with more negative characterisations of the visit, including those of former president Fidel Castro and foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, who described Mr Obama's trip as an "attack" on Cuba's traditions and values.

Ms Vidal said she and US diplomats had agreed upon an agenda for Mr Obama's remaining months in office that would include visits by high-level American agriculture, health and security officials.

She said Mr Obama's visit, which included a forum with private business owners and a speech calling on the Cuban people to look toward a better future, would help both sides accomplish that agenda.

"We believe the visit was an additional step forward in the process of moving toward an improvement in relations, and that it can serve to add momentum to advance in this process, which is in both nations' interest," she said.

"That's the opinion that President Raul Castro shared during his address to the press during Obama's visit."

Commenting on Monday's meeting, The US State Department said "both governments recognised significant steps made toward greater co-operation in environmental protection, civil aviation, direct mail, maritime and port security, health, agriculture, educational and cultural exchanges".

It said the two sides also discussed future meetings on human rights and claims for compensation by American citizens and firms whose property was confiscated in Cuba's 1959 revolution.

Ms Vidal praised a series of agreements struck directly with the US government on topics like environmental co-operation, direct postal service and commercial flights, but said the continuing US trade embargo on Cuba had made progress on business ties more difficult.

Foreign investors agree the embargo is the main obstacle to doing business in Cuba. But they increasingly point to the communist government's slow-moving bureaucracy and opaque decision-making as reasons investment on the island is lagging despite a huge surge of interest since the December 2014 declaration of detente with the US.

The two countries appear to be moving towards greater co-operation on law enforcement in the coming months.

Cuban-born deputy homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is meeting his counterparts in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior on Tuesday for talks on co-operation against drug trafficking, illegal migration and transnational crime.

Press Association

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