Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cuba, Cuban Americans should talk, Richardson says

Cuba, Cuban Americans should talk, Richardson says
Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:58pm EDT
By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson offered on Friday
to set up talks between the Cuban government and Cuban Americans with
the aim of ending five decades of mutual animosity and helping restore
U.S.-Cuba relations.

At the conclusion of a five-day visit to the communist-led island, he
said he had not seen a better atmosphere for improving relations between
the two countries, but that things would have to proceed gradually to
overcome years of bad blood.

Richardson, a Hispanic Democrat who has a history of being a diplomatic
trouble-shooter, said he came to Cuba on a trade mission for New Mexico,
not at the behest of the White House.

But the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said he would
report his findings to President Barack Obama next week.

Obama has said he wants to "recast" relations with Cuba, and has taken
steps such as easing the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the
island and renewing talks on immigration.

Richardson, speaking in both English and Spanish, said he has proposed
informal Cuban-Cuban American talks as a way of improving relations
between two groups who have been bitter enemies since Fidel Castro took
power in a 1959 revolution and many Cubans fled to Miami.

"If there's going to be a solution to the normalization of relations
between Cuba and the United States, Cuban Americans must play a role,"
said Richardson.

Cuban Americans have for years played a big role in shaping U.S. policy
toward their homeland, particularly by helping elect politicians who
voted to maintain the embargo, imposed since 1962 to undermine the Cuban

Many of them have never lost the dream of returning to Cuba, and have
fought against anything they view as helping the communist government.


In recent days, some Cuban Americans have criticized Colombian musician
Juanes, who lives in Miami, for his plans to play a September concert in
Havana's Revolution Square.

Richardson disagreed with the criticism, saying the concert would be
"healthy" for U.S.-Cuba relations.

Despite the Juanes dust-up, Richardson said "there are many Cuban
Americans who feel dialogue (with Cuba) is needed" and that he "would be
very pleased to broker such a discussion."

He said he talked informally with Cuban American "political friends" in
Miami before flying to Cuba, and in Havana he met with two of the
government's key officials for U.S. policy -- Cuban parliament president
Ricardo Alarcon and Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez.

Richardson said he did not meet with President Raul Castro, or his older
brother Fidel Castro, with whom in 1996, as a U.S. congressman, he
negotiated the release of three Cuban political prisoners. He said he
did not meet with the Castros because as a governor he did not have
sufficient political stature.

Richardson called for other measures to increase "people-to-people"
contact, which he said was needed to "build more confidence in each
other before we tackle the bold, divisive issues" such as the embargo
and Cuban human rights.

Obama has said the embargo, which the Cuban government blames for many
of its problems, would stay in place until Cuba releases political
prisoners and improves human rights.

Cuba has said it will discuss everything with the United States but will
make no concessions on what it considers sovereign issues.

Richardson said the biggest obstacles he sees to improved relations is
U.S. inattention and Cuban obstinacy.

"The United States needs to pay more attention to the Cuba issue" and
Latin America in general, said Richardson.

"On the Cuban side, I note a lack of flexibility in their positions.
There needs to be reciprocity when one side takes action," he said.

Richardson would not comment when asked about Thursday's news that U.S.
prosecutors would not press charges after investigating allegations he
had given state business to companies in exchange for campaign

The allegations forced him to withdraw his name from consideration in
January after Obama nominated him for U.S. Commerce Secretary.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Mohammad Zargham)
uba, Cuban Americans should talk, Richardson says | Reuters (28 August 2009)

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