HAVANA – U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Cuba is a clear indication of the new relations between the two countries, Washington’s top diplomat in Havana said Monday.
“We see this as an opportunity to continue developing areas that will benefit the Cubans themselves,” U.S. charge d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis said in an interview with EFE.
Obama’s March 20-22 visit is “the next step” on the list of historic events that have occurred over the past 15 months, that have included the restoration of diplomatic relations in December 2014, the formal opening of embassies in July 2015, and the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry for the raising of the flag on Aug. 14.
DeLaurentis said the U.S. aims to keep working on the expansion of trade ties established after the first regulatory changes were made on Jan. 20, 2015, to ease some of the embargo restrictions and which have revived the interest of many U.S. companies in doing business on the island.
“We keep looking for ways to expand the impact of these measures and connect them with the changes taking place in Cuba,” DeLaurentis said, urging Congress to speed up the debate about ending the embargo and to get in line with the opinions of most Americans, whose support for relations with Cuba has grown stronger over the past year.
Since the restoration of relations was announced, Obama has used his executive powers on four occasions to ease the embargo, with measures that have facilitated travel to the island by U.S. citizens, the sending of remittances and the importing of certain goods.
DeLaurentis said that many of these measures “are focused directly” on supporting the incipient private sector that is on the rise in Cuba, with the island’s nearly 500,000 self-employed entrepreneurs constituting one of the pillars on which President Raul Castro bases his reforms for modernizing the socialist model.
“We now see that 25 percent of the labor force in Cuba works in the private sector and that the proportion will keep on growing. It’s an important motor for driving the economy and the government fully realizes its usefulness,” DeLaurentis said.
Besides the embargo, differences between the two countries about human rights is another stumbling block for normalizing relations, a matter that “continues to be a fundamental priority” for the United States.
“We continue to be concerned about the human-rights situation. President Obama will speak on the subject during his visit and will meet with members of independent civil society,” DeLaurentis said about the planned meeting with dissidents.