Obama Sends Message to Cuba

I first caught sight of this news-piece from an on-line article in L’Humanité, the newspaper of the French Communist Party. I know, sad but true – but L’Humanité to me is nothing more than just another entry in my “France” RSS feed, I swear! And anyway, somehow the same thing has also been covered on-line on the Fox News site (but not more mainstream sources, like the Washington Post or even the New York Times), working from a Reuters report (which the Fox editors actually kept strictly factual – no vituperations against the President here at all!). Anyway, it seems that President Obama took advantage of the meeting he had in the Oval Office with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime minister of Spain, on 13 October to ask him to tell his foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, to pass along a personal message to Cuba – actually, to “the Cuban authorities.” The message was basically that the US was working to improve relations with the island-nation, but “if they don’t take steps too, it’s going to be very hard for us to continue.”

Perusing L’Humanité will further inform you – as looking at the Fox News article will not – that the paper that originally broke this story, appropriately enough, was Spain’s El País. So let’s go there and take a look: we can also handle the Spanish beat here on EuroSavant, though we don’t do it often.

There are but a few additional factual bits to add to the story from the El País treatment, by the paper’s correspondents in Havana, Miguel González and Mauricio Vicent, although they are interesting enough. Like perhaps the reaction to Obama’s initiative from Cuban President Raúl Castro, as conveyed afterwards by the Spanish Foreign Minister (who met with him for three hours)? Remember, now: we’re in the realm of diplomat-speak here. Moratinos: “Raúl Castro received Obama’s election positively, and has great respect for him, and has also greeted in a satisfactory manner certain actions and decisions he [Obama] has taken.” That’s it.

Otherwise, there’s the interesting tidbit that Moratinos actually had the chance to speak with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after Obama and Zapatero had met in the Oval Office, but before he went to Cuba; strangely, the two foreign ministers spoke of the situation in the Honduras and the Middle East, but not about Cuba. (I think that right there shows you how serious an initiative this was meant to be by Obama, namely not very: it was really only something that simply occurred to him when he was meeting with Zapatero and learned that his foreign minister would soon have talks with Castro.) Also, Moratinos took the occasion of his visit in Havana to announce that Spain would make it one of its priorities, during the six months as EU president that will start in January, to bring about an “association agreement” between the EU and Cuba.

That is easier said than done, and the El País piece does provide some good background about this whole issue of Cuba vis-à-vis the EU. For the EU, Cuba is supposedly not a matter of foreign policy, but rather domestic, claim González and Vicent, I suppose because of the great interest Spain holds in it. Yet it will be hard for Moratinos to fulfill his “association agreement” promise, for at least two reasons: 1) Several EU countries are not willing to concede so much to Cuba as long as it holds political prisoners and abuses human rights. (Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic are specifically named here); and 2) Spain might not get its EU presidency next year anyway, since the Lisbon Treaty – if ratified in time – will do away with country-presidencies and substitute instead an actual one-person “President of the European Council,” elected by EU member-states (represented by their governments) for a two-and-a-half-year term.

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