U.S. Official For Historic Cuba Visit

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson
US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson

News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Weds. Jan. 21, 2015: Fresh on the heels of the Obama administration’s changes in the U.S. relationship with Cuba, a top U.S. State Department official is set for talks in the Caribbean island beginning today.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson will travel to Havana, Cuba for a January 21-24th engagement. It’s been 38 years since anyone at the assistant secretary level went to Havana and 35 years since someone of an equivalent position was in Havana, according to the State Department.

The goal, according to the State Department, is to take advantage of previously planned Migration Talks and to launch a discussion with the Cuban Government on re-establishing diplomatic relations. The two sides are also expected to pursue mutual interest such as counternarcotics cooperation, global health security or working together on Ebola.

Re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba is a key step for the implementation of changes in the U.S.-Cuba relationship announced by President Obama on December 17, 2014.

The Migration Talks agenda will include technical and logistical arrangements such as, embassy operations, staffing, and visa processing. Additionally, while in Havana, Assistant Secretary Jacobson will meet with members of independent civil society, as well as religious and independent business leaders.

“This new conversation with Cuba is both an historic and important process that will advance U.S. interests,” the U.S. says. “It will strengthen the United States’ ability to advocate for positive change on the island. By facilitating the Cuban people’s access to greater resources and information, the policy change seeks to engender greater respect for human rights and adherence to democratic principles in Cuba.”

The State Department insists it will continue to have significant differences with the Cuban Government.

“Where we can work together on matters of mutual concern or advance our own interests, we will do so,” a Senior State Department Official said via teleconference Tuesday. “We’ll continue to press the Cuban Government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions. We will discuss human rights issues directly with the Cuban Government at the migration and the normalization talks in Havana.”

The scheduled migration talks begin today while U.S. normalization talks are scheduled for the 22nd.

The talks comes as last night, President Obama, in his annual State of The Union address insisted that the US’ “shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. ”

He urged Congress to begin the work of ending the embargo.

“His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.”  These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba,” said the President as he welcomed home former imprisoned American, Alan Gross, who was his guest at the SOTU.