Cuban Diplomat Casts Wary Eye on US Presidential Contest
HAVANA – The lead negotiator in the Cuban government’s talks with the U.S. said in an interview published Tuesday that the American presidential campaign has added some uncertainty into how she views her country’s future relations with its northern neighbor.
Josefina Vidal, director of the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s United States Division, told the official Cuban News Agency that if President Barack Obama hurries to dismantle existing U.S. sanctions on the island while he’s still in power, the ties will be less vulnerable after he leaves.
“I will continue working with a high dose of momentum and optimism,” she said. “But I’m beginning to feel a certain bit of realism as the electoral process in the United States approaches; we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
There are “variables outside of our control” in the presidential contest, she added.
Supporters of rapprochement between the two countries worry that a new president may try to roll back advances made in the U.S.-Cuba relationship under Obama’s leadership.
Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would work toward normalization, a move that led to the reopening of embassies in each other’s capitals last year.
Although only the U.S. Congress has the power to do away with the embargo against the island, Obama could do much more to ensure that relations between the two countries are less vulnerable before the next November’s contest, the top Cuban diplomat said.
Vidal said she had read many opinions by academics, intellectuals and even members of the U.S. Congress saying that the detente is “irreversible,” but she insisted that “it isn’t that absolute.”
Among things Obama could do before he leaves the presidency, she said, would be to allow the use of the American dollar in bilateral business and permit direct financial transactions between banks in the United States and Cuba.
Vidal said Obama could also eliminate policies that he has power over as chief executive, such the so-called “Wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans who step on American soil to stay in the U.S. and apply for permanent residency.