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World Affairs

Cuba Digs in Heels on Concessions for Better U.S. Ties

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The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country's struggling economy.

Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.

"One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."

It's not clear if Cuba's tough stance is part of normal negotiation tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving forward.

The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in 2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela, which has been a vital source of economic support.

In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers about Obama's dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.