WASHINGTON._ Following years of hostility and distance, the new atmosphere between the United States and Cuba is characterized by talks described as constructive and respectful by both sides, various expert exchanges, and steps towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

The decision of presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, announced last December 17, to move towards the normalization of ties between the neighboring nations, has led to official talks on the restoration of diplomatic relations, the re-opening of embassies in both capitals and progression on points of mutual interest.

There has been a simultaneous increase in the number of visits to the Island by members of the U.S. Congress and as well as more media interest in Cuban affairs and the commercial outlook, to the point that a seminar on business opportunities in Cuba is to be held at the emblematic New York headquarters of the NASDAQ stock exchange. In spite of these positive signs some disturbing elements, which present serious obstacles, remain.

If Obama has, since the joint announcement, in fact used his prerogative to loosen certain aspects of the more than fifty year old economic, commercial and financial blockade, it still exists in its entirety, as do the problematic Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy which stimulate illegal emigration.

Following years of hostility and distance, the new atmosphere between the United States and Cuba is characterized by talks described as constructive and respectful by both sides, various expert exchanges, and steps towards the normalization of bilateral relations.Cuba also remains on the list of countries that allegedly sponsor international terrorism and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. is still without banking facilities, issues which Havana view as priorities in the face of restored ties, unilaterally broken back in January 1961 by the Dwight Eisenhower administration.

During this second round of talks on the reestablishment of relations and the substitution of the present interest section offices with embassies, the Cuban delegation reiterated their concerns about their country´s inclusion on the aforementioned unilateral list and the banking difficulties of their Washington based representatives.

At the closing of the February 27 talks at the U.S Department of State headquarters in Washington D.C., following the talks held in Havana on January 22, Josefina Vidal, director general for the U.S. at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told journalists that they had never talked about preconditions, but it was vitally important that these issues be resolved.

A DIALOGUE BETWEEN EQUALS

Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation, said that both countries had managed to move closer on the issues being discussed, which was a cause for optimism.

Meanwhile, host nation talks delegation chief and assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, expressed her satisfaction with the mood at the talks and her expectation that the embassies would be open prior to the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama next April.

Constructive, respectful, productive and fruitful are some of the terms used to describe the negotiations by participating officials.

A series of technical meetings have also been planned to start in March on issues of mutual interest such as people trafficking, civil aviation, migratory fraud prevention, telecommunications, human rights, the protection of the marine environment and regulatory alterations to the implementation of the blockade imposed against the island.

Vidal told The Havana Reporter soon after the second round of talks had finalized that there were multiple opportunities that Cuba and the U.S. could jointly exploit.

She said that geographical proximity and a shared vision on certain issues relating to national security led her to believe in the possibility of a joint approach on diverse matters.

According to her analysis, sciences, services, security, legal migration, information and technology are amongst the sectors with most potential. Although no date has as yet been set for a third round, both Jacobson and Vidal advocated for the continuation of the process following the Washington talks and hailed the forthcoming expert meetings.

The Cuban official emphasized her country´s willingness to remain in constant contact on issues discussed, while the U.S. Assistant Secretary avowed that where you have so much to overcome and where you have differences, communication is a key variable.

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