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Bello: A long game in Havana

Bello: A long game in Havana
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http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21645751-cuba-wants-controlled-courtship-united-states-not-fevered-embrace-mayOn February 28th Venezuelas president, Nicols Maduro, announced the de facto expulsion of scores of American diplomats. Yet a day earlier diplomats from Cuba, Venezuelas closest ally, sat down in Washington, in an atmosphere that they called one of respect, for a second round of talks with the Americans on restoring diplomatic relations after a 54-year hiatus. Cuba confirmed that it is prepared to restore diplomatic ties as soon as the administration recommends the islands removal from the State Departments list of state sponsors of terrorism.

THE contrast was striking. On February 28th Venezuelas president, Nicols Maduro, announced the de facto expulsion of scores of American diplomats. It was a… Bello: A long game in Havana | The Economist

Bello: A long game in Havana

THE contrast was striking. On February 28th Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, announced the de facto expulsion of scores of American diplomats. It was a transparent ploy by a deeply unpopular leader to foment a clash with the United States so as to justify his repression of the opposition and the possible cancellation of a forthcoming legislative election that he would otherwise lose. Yet a day earlier diplomats from Cuba, Venezuela’s closest ally, sat down in Washington, in an atmosphere that they called one of “respect”, for a second round of talks with the Americans on restoring diplomatic relations after a 54-year hiatus.

After the talks, Barack Obama said he hoped the United States could lay the groundwork for reopening its embassy in Havana before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10th-11th, which he will attend along with Cuba’s Raúl Castro. Cuba confirmed that it is prepared to restore diplomatic ties as soon as the administration recommends the island’s removal from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. This is likely to happen “very soon”, says a State Department official.

Following Mr Obama’s historic gambit, announced on December 17th, to start dismantling the embargo against Cuba, American companies are queuing up to offer flights and tours. There is fevered talk of importing cigars and exporting poultry and building materials. Mr Obama said this week that “we’re already seeing” change in Cuba.

Such enthusiasm is understandable after the half-century freeze between the two countries, but it may be premature. Even if embassies are reopened in the next five weeks—which looks highly unlikely—this will not lead to a speedy normalisation of relations. Still less will it prompt an immediate embrace of capitalism, democracy and the American way of life by Mr Castro’s communist government. Instead, he has portrayed the diplomatic breakthrough, which followed 18 months of secret talks, as a victory—vindication of Cuba’s resistance to American efforts to topple its regime.

Mr Castro told a Latin American summit in January that full normalisation of relations with the United States would depend on the formal lifting of the embargo, compensation for the costs it imposed on Cuba and the restitution of the Guantánamo naval base. The last two items are politically impossible, as he surely knows.

Why is he being so prickly? Since he took office as president in 2008 he has quietly dismantled many of the policies of his elder brother, Fidel. A fifth of Cuba’s labour force now works in a fledgling private sector comprising small businesses, farms and co-operatives. While communist rule is still ruthlessly enforced, Cubans enjoy more everyday freedoms. Via economist.com

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