WASHINGTON.-Even though the U.S. Blockade and other hostile acts against Cuba remain in force, both nations are moving in the direction of the normalization of relations, a long and complex process announced by presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on December 17, 2014.

In order to improve ties, Havana and Washington activated a Bilateral Commission charged with the exploration of mechanisms intended to overcome differences and identify areas of cooperation.

This additional element in the history of ties between the countries held its first session in Havana on September 11, in order to establish a basis for the rapprochement.

SECOND MEETING

The Commission returned to the negotiation talks on December 10 in Washington, at the State Department in Washington D.C., with the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S.

WASHINGTON.-Even though the U.S. Blockade and other hostile acts against Cuba remain in force, both nations are moving in the direction of the normalization of relations, a long and complex process announced by presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on December 17, 2014.Affairs, Josefina Vidal, leading the Cuban delegation and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Alex Lee, at the head of that of the U.S.

When concluding the meeting, both sides emphasized the professional, respectful and constructive spirit of their six hour long encounter.

In statements to the press, Vidal said that the two governments are close to announcing accords in various sectors covered by talks over the past two months.

“I can categorically confirm that we have made progress (…). We will shortly be announcing the first agreements”, she said.

The official explained that, thanks to the work of both sides of the Commission, progress had been made on issues that had been discussed for years, such as postal services, which had been under review since 2009.

On the basis of what Vidal revealed, Havana and Washington might announce before the end of this year agreements reached regarding direct air services – to date only charter flights are permitted – and postal services in addition to agreements on cooperation in the areas of defense, the environment and the fight against drug trafficking.

It also seems that topics such as marine port security, the application of and compliance with the law, climate change, emigration, human rights and health will be addressed or intensified.

THE BLOCKADE AND OTHER OBSTACLES

In July 2015, Cuba and the U.S. renewed diplomatic relations and reopened embassies in their respective capitals, steps that led to the establishment of the Bilateral Commission, viewed as the best way to achieve results on the road to normalization.

Nevertheless, Washington continues to fully enforce the more than half century old economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba.

Vidal told reporters that, just like at the previous meeting, her side insisted that the blockade must be lifted because of its effects on the Cuban people and on the island’s economic and commercial ties with the U.S. and third-party countries.

She stated that the blockade was not the only obstacle to the rapprochement which endeavored to create better ties between the neighboring nations.

Vidal added that they had outlined as necessary the return of lands occupied by the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo and the cessation of illegal radio and television broadcasts and subversive programs encouraging a change in regime.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Vidal said that the Commission would reconvene in February 2016.

The State Department view the meetings of the Commission, created as a result of the establishment of diplomatic ties, as key to the coordination of progress on the normalization of links.

In a press release, Washington described the meetings as an opportunity to address priorities for the coming year and for the identification of tools “for the continued decrease in differences”.

It is hoped that the willingness expressed by Havana and Washington to continue progressing towards normalization will translate into further expert meetings and high level visits.

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