Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U.S. envoy in Cuba met with officials, citizens

U.S. envoy in Cuba met with officials, citizens
Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:37am EDT

HAVANA (Reuters) - A senior U.S. diplomat who participated in recent
talks in Havana about resuming bilateral mail service with Cuba stayed
around to meet with Cuban officials and other Cubans in the latest sign
of thawing U.S.-Cuba relations.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section in the Cuban capital said
on Tuesday that Bisa Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary for
Western Hemisphere affairs, was in Cuba for several days after the
September 17 meeting, holding the previously unannounced meetings.

The spokeswoman said Williams met with Cuban officials and with members
of Cuba's "civil society," and went to the western province of Pinar del
Rio to tour facilities there.

"The Cubans helped set things up for her," the spokeswoman said.

She would not confirm reports that Williams also met with Cuban dissidents.

U.S.-Cuban relations have begun slowly warming under U.S. President
Barack Obama, who has said he wants to "recast" relations that have been
hostile since a 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power and led
to Cuba's transformation into a communist state.

He has lifted limits on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to
Cuba, and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service, the
latter aimed at reinstating direct postal service between Cuba and the
United States suspended since August 1963.

The two governments issued positive statements after both meetings and
said more would be held in the future.


The first round of migration talks was held in New York in July, and a
second round is tentatively set for December in Havana. They had been
suspended since 2004 by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

The U.S. also has suggested to Cuba that travel limits currently imposed
on their respective diplomats in both countries be lifted.

In a small but symbolic gesture, Washington also turned off in July a
news ticker in the window of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana that
the Cuban government had viewed as an affront to its sovereignty.

Since the ticker was turned off, Cuba has mostly taken down large flags
it placed in front of the interest section to block the ticker from view.

Despite the thaw, Obama has said he will maintain the 47-year-old U.S.
trade embargo against Cuba until the Cuban government shows progress on
human rights and democracy. Cuba has said it views those as strictly
internal issues not subject to negotiation.

Two weeks ago, Obama signed a yearly renewal of the act that imposes the
embargo, which Cuba blames for most of its economic problems.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in speech to the United
Nations General Assembly on Monday that Cuba has long wanted normal
relations with the U.S. and acknowledged that Obama had taken some
positive, but small steps in the right direction.

But he said Obama has not yet done enough and he expressed concern that
right-wing forces in the United States still wield great power.

"The crucial thing is that the economic, commercial and financial
blockade against Cuba remains intact," Rodriguez said.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Eric Walsh)

U.S. envoy in Cuba met with officials, citizens | Reuters (30 September

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