Re-engaging Cuba: A visitor makes the case for a thaw in relations

Cuban diplomat Jose Cabanas says it's time for the U.S. to end the embargo

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A two-day visit to Pittsburgh by Cuba’s top diplomat in the United States, Jose Cabanas, provoked a new look at American policy toward that country, which has been the subject of a U.S. trade embargo since the 1960s.

Mr. Cabanas is Cuba’s chief of mission in the United States, not formally the Cuban ambassador, due to the fact that the countries have had no diplomatic relations since the Communists took power. The United States has insisted as a precondition to relations on major changes in Cuba, including, according to Mr. Cabanas, regime change. Cuba has stuck stubbornly to its own course, even in the face of a half-century of U.S. economic sanctions and its loss of support from Russia when the old Soviet Union collapsed.

According to Mr. Cabanas, there may be some changes in the wind. He senses a slight shift in posture by the Department of State toward Cuba in recent months, including interest in talks on issues such as migration, postal service, air transport and the environment. He said Cuba welcomes such discussions, not simply as evidence of changing U.S. policy but out of the need for two nearby countries to discuss matters of common interest.

Asked why U.S. policy might change, he cited fatigue with the current U.S. approach, changes in Cuba and Latin America in general and new economic opportunities for American investors and exporters. These include offshore oil drilling; a new port and industrial park at Mariel, which is becoming more significant as Panama completes work on modernizing the canal; and a new investment code and tax law which Cuba has put in place.

He believes that the United States is losing ground in Latin America by holding to its policy of isolation toward Cuba, a policy he said has a rising cost. He also pointed out that Raul Castro, 83, will complete his second and final term as president in 2018.

Clearing away the underbrush of five decades of bad relations will be a difficult task. At the same time, if there are promising signs that the process is beginning, Americans — including Pittsburghers — should welcome the change. Mr. Cabanas said Cuba’s particular interest in Pittsburgh was its health services, its universities and, as a baseball-loving nation, the Pirates.

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