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“Democratic opening” before any US/Cuba dialogue

Monday, December 4th 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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United States said that a democratic opening of the Cuban regime is indispensable before any deepening of relations with Havana. The statement came in reply to the conciliating speech by Cuban interim president and Defense minister Raul Castro who called on Washington to the “negotiations table”.

"The dialogue must be between the Cuban regime and the Cuban people on the democratic future of the island. We've said it before: any deepening of our engagement with Cuba depends on this dialogue and the willingness of the Cuban regime to adopt concrete measures towards a political opening and a transition to democracy", said Sunday Janelle Hironimus from the White House spokesperson office.

On Saturday during a massive celebration of Fidel Castro's 80th birthday and the half century of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, Raul Castro expressed his "willingness to settle the long US-Cuba disagreement at the negotiating table".

Raul Castro took on Fidel's responsibilities last July 31 when his brother underwent intestinal surgery for an illness that remains a state secret in Cuba.

Shortly thereafter Fidel gave a proclamation that implied he would attend this delayed birthday celebration December 2, --since his real birthday was August 13--, but following on "doctors' orders" did not appear although he sent a message.

When asked if the statement meant a rejection of the dialogue offer, the White House spokesperson insisted that the State Department policy has been very clear and that "it's the government of Cuba that must make changes".

However Raul Castro's speech could be indicating a desire to ease the traditionally strained tensions with Washington. The timing and the mention of the negotiating table suggests some growing autonomy on the part of Raul Castro according to analysts.

Julia Sweig, director of the Latinamerican program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. believes that while Cuban life has not been disrupted by Castro's illness the succession has been smooth.

"Cubans have been planning it for years", said Sweig. "The people running the country today have been training with Fidel. Now they are managing the country without him".

Some analysts even believe that the Saturday military display and civilian march was the symbolic proclamation of Raul as the undisputed leader, marking the end of the Fidel era that nevertheless will remain as the only undisputed Commander of the Cuban Revolution.

"In Cuba there's no succession, there's continuity", said vice-president Carlo Lage.

Diplomatic rumours in Havana are also insisting that Raul is intent in following the "Chinese or Vietnamese development" models which could mean a loosening of the tight grip on the economy. He travels often to Beijing and Hanoi.

Strangely enough in Caracas, President Hugo Chavez was adopting a similar attitude towards the US.

After months of calling names and poking fun of US President George Bush as the "devil" and "Mr Danger", the Venezuelan president said the wanted to have good relations with the United States.

"It's good to hear a US government official admit that Venezuela is a democracy, and it's equally encouraging that US Under Secretary of State (Thomas Shannon) has met with Nicaragua's elected president Daniel Ortega", said Chavez. He described the two events as "very good signals". "All countries in the world merit our respect, including the United States", he emphasized.

Categories: Mercosur.

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