Cuba denies it's negotiating with U.S. on compensation claims
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
A Cuban government official has denied that a recent meeting with U.S.
representatives to discuss mutual compensation claims amounts to a
negotiation, raising doubts about Havana's willingness to settle the
issue anytime soon.
A senior U.S. State Department official who recently briefed journalists
on the compensation talks said the two sides held "very substantial
discussions" despite the nine months between the first and second meetings.
But the Cuban government's public version of the talks was quite different.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno told a news conference in Havana
on Monday that "we are not negotiating yet. … We are now engaged in
informational talks." A transcript of the news conference was published
Moreno said the U.S. representatives "have stated the need to resolve
the issue as quickly as possible, but … these are going to be extremely
complex negotiations from all points of view … and we cannot rush things."
Jason Poblete, a lawyer who specializes in Cuba claims with
PobleteTamargo LLP in Washington D.C., said that although Moreno's
statements are typical of negotiations, the discussions "are
negotiations, because they're sitting at a table and talking about the
issue," he said, adding that Moreno's statements point to a decision by
Cuba to delay the process.
"These statements show they are not interested in finding a solution,
that there is a tactic to delay," Poblete said. He believes the Cuban
government may be waiting to see if the U.S. president elected in
November "will offer them something better." The delays also would
maintain the status quo until 2018, when Cuban ruler Raúl Castro has
said he will surrender the presidency.
That could be a mistake, said John Kavulich, director of the US-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council: "Cuba will never have a more compliant
negotiating partner than it does in the Obama Administration, for whom
[improved relations with Havana] … is a visceral component of a legacy
construct," he said.
Moreno's comments in fact could be "an indirect message that they are
not interested in solving this issue. I am speculating, but perhaps they
want to win the elimination of all sanctions before they pay"
compensation, said Poblete.
The State Department official told journalists that the U.S. side seeks
$1.9 billion in compensation for Cuba's seizure of properties owned by
U.S. citizens in the early 1960s; $2.2 billion of judgments outstanding
against Cuba; and a "hundred to a couple hundred millions of dollars"
that relate to interests that the U.S. government had in mining on the
Cuba seeks nearly $300 billion as compensation for the economic and
human damages caused by the U.S. trade embargo and other policies and
activities against the Castro governments since 1959.
The State Department official said there is "nothing different in these
negotiations from our experience negotiating claims with other
countries," and added that both sides "are committed to trying to
resolve this in a mutually satisfactory manner."
The Cuban official, however, has linked the payment of compensations to
the U.S. embargo, which Havana calls a "blockade."
"The solution to the issue of compensations … is obviously directly
linked to the blockade. I believe that all of you understand that the
normalization of relations between the two countries will be very
difficult, if not impossible, while the blockade against Cuba remains in
place," Moreno declared.
U.S. negotiators have considered the possibility of signing a bilateral
agreement with a one-time payment to resolve the issue. But Moreno,
asked if the Cuban side would accept such a deal, said the island's
claims are not negotiable.
"The claims of the Cuban people were approved by the courts, and claims
are not negotiated," he said. "I can't say, 'Cuba claimed X amount of
money — which was approved by the courts — but now we're going to change
it to another amount.' No. Those are judicial rulings that must be
obeyed by our government officials."
The two sides ended the second meeting, held in Washington, without
agreement on the date for the next meeting. The first meeting, held in
Havana, also ended without agreement on the date for the second.
Kavulich said the key challenge for the Cuban government is to recognize
that there will be no specific monetary reparations from the U.S. side.
"The negotiators will need to ask whether the imagery of seeking what
will not be given is more important for the 11.3 million citizens of the
Republic of Cuba than removing a significant impediment to … immediate
multilateral benefits," he said.
Poblete agreed: "If the Cubans are interested in having the U.S.
sanctions removed, they would pay the claims, which would help the
groups in Washington that are pushing for the elimination of sanctions"
on Havana, he said.
Kavulich also questioned whether the Obama Administration views the
compensation issue as a priority.
"Two meetings in 599 days. No further meetings scheduled, and the Obama
Administration ends in 175 days. And this is defined as a high priority
of the Obama Administration. The certified claimants have been
concerned, and now that concern is magnified," he said.
"Claimants have not seen the effort they deserve," Kavulich added. "A
legacy is not built by focusing on the relatively easy issues, but on
the difficult issues."
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