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courage is contagious

Viewing cable 09HAVANA592, GOC SIGNALS "READINESS TO MOVE FORWARD"

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09HAVANA592 2009-09-25 17:05 2010-12-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana
VZCZCXRO4752
PP RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHMT RUEHNG
RUEHNL RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHUB #0592/01 2681739
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251739Z SEP 09
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4792
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHUP/AMEMBASSY BUDAPEST PRIORITY
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0093
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0050
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID PRIORITY 0159
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0027
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM PRIORITY 0006
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUEABND/DEA HQS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFHLC/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAORC/US CUSTOMS AND BORDER PRO WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 HAVANA 000592 

SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 

DEPT FOR WHA/CCA 
DEPT FOR USAID/LAC 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/25/2019 
TAGS: PREL CASC EAID ETTC ODIP OEXC OFDP PHSA PHUM
SNAR, AA 
SUBJECT: GOC SIGNALS "READINESS TO MOVE FORWARD" 

REF: A. A) HAVANA 511 ("USINT FOLLOW-UP ON MIGRATION 
TALKS") 
B. B) HAVANA 512 ("BRITISH EMBASSY SEEKS TO BUILD 
CIVIL SOCIETY") 
C. C) HAVANA 437 ("GOC RESPONDS TO TIP DESIGNATION") 

Classified By: Political Counselor Joaquin Monserrate for Reason 1.4(D) 

1. (C) SUMMARY. Avowing a "readiness to move forward in our 
relationship," the Government of Cuba granted us 
unprecedented access to its state institutions during the 
visit of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams 
from September 16 to 22. To underscore the move, the GOC 
also offered the Mission quarterly consular access to jailed 
Cuban-Americans that we identified, and extended full 
diplomatic protections and multiple-entry visas to USINT's 
Marine Security Guards and temporary duty personnel. The 
country's leading opposition figures told DAS Williams that 
they were heartened by the increased lines of 
government-to-government communications and encouraged the 
United States to continue prying open these links. The key 
to normalizing relations, DAS Williams told the Cubans, was 
not to be found solely in the degree of bilateral engagement 
between the United States and Cuba, but in the Cuban 
Government,s efforts to engage its own people and to respond 
to their wishes. The visit included DAS Williams, 
participation in the United States - Cuba Direct Mail Talks 
held in Havana on September 18 (Septel), and took place 
during the much talked-about "Peace Without Borders" musical 
concert held on September 20. END SUMMARY. 

AN UNPRECEDENTED WEEK 
-------------------- 

2. (C) WHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Bisa Williams led the 
U.S. delegation to the Direct Mail Talks with Cuba on 
September 18. In the following four days, DAS Williams met 
with officials from the Foreign Relations, Justice, 
Agriculture, Health and Interior ministries, the Prosecutors' 
Office, the University of Havana, and local officials in the 
Province of Pinar del Rio. DAS Williams also held 
roundtables with the leading figures from Cuba's dissident 
and blogger communities, and with resident EU ambassadors. 
In addition, she was allowed to travel twice outside the 
Havana Province perimeter, to visit the Latin American School 
of Medicine and the areas hardest hit by hurricanes in 2008 
in the westernmost province of Pinar del Rio. 

"CONFIDENCE BUILDING" KEY TO MOVE FORWARD 
------------------------------ 

3. (C) DAS Williams discussed the purpose and ramifications 
of her visit and the Mail Talks during an extended meeting 
with Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez. They agreed 
that further "confidence building" was essential, and 
acknowledged the considerable work that lies ahead. When DAS 
Williams brought up the treatment of prisoners in Cuban 
jails, for instance, Rodriguez noted how dialogue on this 
would be possible but only with countries with which there is 
"sufficient confidence" and mutual respect. The same, he 
said, applied to scholarships and lifting reciprocal travel 
restrictions on U.S. diplomats in Cuba and Cuban diplomats in 
Washington, to name just two areas. 

4. (C) VM Rodriguez seemed optimistic that things were 
moving in a positive direction. "We see a change in the 
rhetoric," he told Williams. "Even within the existing 
diplomatic constraints, we see a way forward." In granting 

HAVANA 00000592 002 OF 006 


almost all of DAS Williams' requests for Government of Cuba 
(GOC) meetings, "we meant to show our readiness to move 
forward in our relationship," he added. 

RELAXING RESTRICTIONS ON USINT 
--------------------------- 

5. (C) At the meeting, VM Rodriguez announced that the GOC 
would grant the Mission, effective immediately, access to 
eight Cuban-Americans serving prison terms here (REF A), 
including those outside the confines of Havana Province, and 
extend diplomatic protections to our short and long-term 
temporary duty personnel, including granting them 
multiple-entry visas (Note: The GOC,s abrupt decision in 
2007 to stop issuing multiple-entry visas to the U.S. MSG 
detachment has been a bilateral point of contention as well 
as a serious morale and operational challenge for post . End 
Note). That is as far as it goes for now, the VM said. 
Acknowledging that the USG has already indicated readiness to 
move from authorized to notified travel for Cuban diplomats 
in Washington, Rodriguez said that more confidence-building 
would be required before the GOC would be willing to lift 
long-standing restrictions on travel by USINT personnel 
outside Havana. 

STILL WARY OF OUR HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA 
---------------------------- 

6. (C) Although VM Rodriguez said that the domestic travel 
restrictions had been placed in response to U.S. limits on 
Cuban diplomats in Washington, he complained about our 
emphasis on raising human rights wherever we go. "I would 
note that when those trips took place, they were only used 
for just one type of activity," he said, in reference to 
outreach to the island's political opposition. "Sometimes it 
seemed that the only purpose of the trip was to pursue that 
type of meeting." He went on to complain that "your policy 
until now has been that civil society is only made up of one 
type of people; Cuban civil society is much broader than 
these small circles." 

7. (C) The Foreign Ministry repeatedly warned DAS Williams 
about meeting with leading dissident "criminals," and was 
especially sensitive to the idea that international media 
might portray such contact in a way that embarrasses the 
regime. VM Rodriguez showed no flexibility on the two 
specific human rights cases raised, requests for medical 
leave for prisoner of conscience XXXXXXXXXXXX and an 
exit permit for the wife of prisoner of conscience XXXXXXXXXXXX
to travel to Spain for medical treatment. 

THE EU ON THE GROUND AND THE OPPOSITION 
--------------------------------------------- 

8. (C) The Ambassadors of Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom, 
Hungary, France and the EU charge, told DAS Williams at a 
roundtable meeting that the access of their visitors to the 
GOC was always conditioned on shunning the opposition. When 
they learned that Williams would see opposition anyway, they 
announced that they would protest the "double standard" and 
would begin to demand similar leeway for their visitors. 

9. (C) The meeting with the EU countries exposed the 
divisions between those that place human rights at the top of 
their agenda, like Sweden and the UK, and those that do not, 
like Spain and France. Some in the latter camp, joined by 
the EU representative at the meeting, dismissed the 
dissidents in the same terms as the GOC, insisting that "they 

HAVANA 00000592 003 OF 006 


do not represent anyone." The UK Ambassador told us that the 
EU was so divided that they could not even agree upon a set 
of specific human rights benchmarks. (REF B) "It's not that 
we're not doing human rights," the EU rep replied, "but we 
want to trade and invest." The UK Ambassador told us on the 
side that potential visitors from countries interested in 
meeting with civil society (e.g., UK, Hungary) are undercut 
with the GOC by visits from EU countries who are not 
interested (e.g., Spain, France). The EU group was uniformly 
critical of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, yet they volunteered 
that the embargo gave the USG leverage with the GOC which the 
EU lacked. 

OPTIMISM IN THE CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY 
----------------------- 

10. (C) DAS Williams met separately with a broad range of 
civil society activists, including dissidents, former 
political prisoners, independent journalists and bloggers. 
Although scathing in their assessment of the GOC's intentions 
towards the United States, they all strongly supported 
continued government-to-government engagement and expressed 
great appreciation for the opportunity to meet with a 
visiting high-ranking U.S. official. "For the first time 
Cuba has an administration in the U.S. which is dealing 
intelligently and eschewing rhetoric," XXXXXXXXXXXX
told us. They also urged patience. 
"The process of change is afoot, I know it will be slow, but 
the top is crumbling," XXXXXXXXXXXX stated. 

11. (C/NF) The bloggers, who partly out of self-preservation 
do not want to be lumped in with the dissident community, 
were equally optimistic about the course of events. "An 
improvement in relations with the United States is absolutely 
necessary for democracy to emerge here," blogging pioneer and 
Time magazine's 100-most influential person XXXXXXXXXXXX 
told DAS Williams in her modest apartment. "Restrictions 
only hurt us," she added. "Do you know how much more we 
could do if we could use Pay Pal or purchase things on-line 
with a credit card?" 

POSSIBLE OPENING FOR ACADEMIC COOPERATION 
----------------------------- 

12. (C) In DAS Williams, meetings with Cuban officials, the 
GOC criticized the USG,s "one-sided" approach to academic 
cooperation. VM Rodriguez said that, as confidence builds, 
the GOC would review whether to loosen its strict stance on 
U.S.-sponsored scholarships. "The key is what kind of 
relationship we have, it doesn't make sense to do 
scholarships now when relations are poor." He noted, however, 
that Cuba would prefer scholarships in the hard sciences, and 
in the past the USG had offered only social science courses. 


13. (C) Despite this, DAS Williams, meeting at the 
University of Havana was positive, constructive, and frank, 
with a focus on learning from past failures and exploring 
avenues for future cooperation. The University was 
represented by the Vice Rector for International Relations, 
the Director of the Center for U.S. Studies, and other 
faculty and staff. The Vice Rector noted approvingly that 
this was the highest ranking U.S. visit ever to the 
University, and hoped that this indicated a positive change 
in posture towards academic cooperation. University 
officials appeared open to DAS Williams, suggestion that 
they invite USINT COM or other American speakers to the 

HAVANA 00000592 004 OF 006 


university to discuss topics of interest to students in an 
academic, symposium-like setting where there could be real 
give and take. 

EXPLAINING THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM 
------------------------------- 

14. (C) DAS Williams told officials that the USG was 
concerned that Cuban students who had applied for the 
USG-offered scholarships were now being subjected to 
reprisals and discriminatory treatment at the university. 
She noted that although the university may not have 
sanctioned such treatment, we had credible reports of its 
occurrence. Responding, University officials denied reports 
of officially-sanctioned mistreatment of USG scholarship 
applicants. They said that the reason the students were 
prevented from accepting the scholarships stemmed from lack 
of advanced coordination with the University. Noting that 
the USG scholarship program was course credit-oriented and 
was not compatible with the University,s course structure 
which could not accommodate any lengthy absence during the 
academic year, the Vice Rector suggested that in the future 
we propose graduate-level research courses. University of 
Havana officials were surprised when DAS Williams noted that 
we had shared information with the Foreign Ministry regarding 
the proposed educational exchanges well in advance, forcing 
the a Foreign Ministry representative at the meeting to 
explain that the GOC had decided unilaterally as a matter of 
foreign policy that Cuban students would not be allowed to 
participate in the program. 

LAW ENFORCEMENT COOPERATION 
--------------------------------------------- 

15. (C) The GOC pushed hard for increased law enforcement 
cooperation, especially in counternarcotics. The top drug 
fighter at the Interior Ministry, Colonel Jorge Samper, 
commented that bilateral cooperation was often one-sided, and 
that the GOC would like to be able to work more closely with 
the United States in sharing information about trafficking 
patterns in the region. Foreign Ministry officials told us 
that they would be submitting "next month at the latest" a 
proposal to increase cooperation in counter-narcotics 
trafficking, including money laundering. (Note: this is the 
same proposal that the Foreign Ministry promised to deliver 
the week after the Migration Talks in New York in July). 

16. (C) The GOC also informed us that they had no objections 
to the voluntary repatriation of Amcit fugitive Luis Armando 
Pena Soltren who is wanted in the United States for hijacking 
an aircraft from the United States to Cuba in 1968. The 
GOC also received with obvious interest a request from the 
U.S. Department of Justice that Cuba provide evidence and 
witnesses in the case against XXXXXXXXXXXX, a request 
we made to the Foreign Ministry by diplomatic note during the 
visit. 

CHALLENGING OUR TIPS, TERRORISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS LISTS 
------------------------------------- 

17. (C) DAS Williams told Justice and Foreign ministry 
officials that we were aware of the Cuban government,s 
dissatisfaction with their ranking in the U.S. reports on 
trafficking in persons and human rights. (REF C) She 
encouraged the GOC to meet with USINT officials to provide 
data relevant to both reports, stressing in particular that 
the trafficking report required information on prosecutions 
that we had been unable to verify. They bristled at the mere 

HAVANA 00000592 005 OF 006 


suggestion. "Nowhere in international law does it say that 
the U.S. should or can prepare a report on Cuba," the 
Director of the International Cooperation Division of the 
Justice Ministry stated. "With all due respect, we have no 
obligation to report anywhere except to the international 
bodies. When we get to the day of normalization, we could 
perhaps get to a point where we can discuss these things." 

18. (C) On terrorism, the Cubans took a similar line. "What 
right do you have to judge other countries?" VM Rodriguez 
asked. "If we were to do our own list the U.S. would be 
there because in the United States there are thousands of 
Cubans who are truly terrorists." However, on terrorism the 
Cubans seemed slightly less reluctant to engage. DAS 
Williams stressed that removal from the sponsors of 
terrorism list would be possible if specific procedures were 
followed and she encouraged VFM Rodriguez to meet with COM 
Farrar to review the process. "You just told us to study how 
to get off the list without telling us how," Foreign 
Ministry's Director of the International Cooperation Josefina 
Vidal pleaded, leaving the door open to further discussions 
on this. 

U.S. FUGITIVES 
---------------- 

19. (C) DAS Williams took the opportunity to press the 
Cubans on the over 100 fugitives believed to be resident in 
Cuba. She told Interior and Foreign Ministry officials that 
the issue would not go away and that we would continue to 
seek their return. Noting that similar Cuban requests were 
ignored in the early 1960s, Vidal quipped: "We have a long 
list ourselves." 

MAKING AN IMPACT IN THE HURRICANE IMPACT ZONE 
-------------------------------------- 

20. (C) DAS Williams got a chance to visit the worst-hit 
areas by hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008, in Cuba's 
westernmost province of Pinar del Rio. Unlike in 2008, when 
we were kept at arm's length by the GOC, the regional 
authorities received us warmly, giving us a detailed 
presentation of the damage and rebuilding work. The 
Venezuelans supplied roofing material -- "they send us one 
container after another, week after week," Provincial 
XXXXXXXXXXXX told us -- and even building a model 38-home neighborhood of aluminum-walled, steamy homes. Stiff and unsure of our intentions at first, the Chairman and his entourage became progressively affable as the visit went on, even riding in the USINT van with our delegation to encourage us to visit more often. 

THE MEDICAL SCHOOL 
-------------------- 

21. (C) Despite having repeatedly denied USINT permission to 
visit the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) just outside 
the limits of Havana Province, the GOC consented to DAS 
Williams' request. At ELAM, we met a half-dozen American 
students who enrolled in the six-year program through the 
U.S.-based Pastors for Peace program. They were enthusiastic 
with ELAM's focus on social work, and happy to see their 
country's representatives. They told us that they were 
unaware that USINT had been kept from visiting them at ELAM. 
The students had few complaints about the school, but at 
least one urged for assistance in easing the process of 
receiving funds from home. All of the students lamented that 
their academic study in Cuba does not qualify them to defer 

HAVANA 00000592 006 OF 006 


payment of their undergraduate student loans as they would 
have been able to if they had pursued medical training in the 
U.S. (Note: USINT Consular section will follow-up with CA on 
how to facilitate their ability to receive financial support 
from their parents in the U.S. End Note.) 

THE CONCERT 
------------- 

22. (C) While the visit was taking place, another event 
--the "Peace Without Borders" concert organized by Colombian 
musician Juanes-- dominated the news. Cubans of all stripes 
read subtle messages everywhere, from the song selections to 
the statements proffered from the stage. What was unique was 
how universally praised the concert was here. Vice Foreign 
Minister Rodriguez and XXXXXXXXXXXX both agreed that the 
concert had turned a page in Cuban history. "The concert is 
a beginning, it's part of what are doing," Rodriguez said. 

COMMENT: TIME TO TAKE STOCK AND FOLLOW UP 
--------------------------------------- 

23. (C) It is hard to overstate just how markedly improved 
were our dealings with the Cuban Government and GOC 
institutions during the Mail Talks and subsequent meetings of 
DAS Williams' visit. Whether this presages a true 
operational shift on the part of the GOC remains to be seen. 
What is clear is that the GOC is willing to fine-tune its 
adversarial stance if it sees it in its interest to do so. 
This presents us with enormous opportunities to set and 
influence the terms of our future exchanges (Septel). As we 
did during the visit, we will continue to press the point 
that the GOC engagement with the Cuban people will do more to 
influence the bilateral relationship than its 
government-to-government engagement. Nonetheless, there are 
a number of action items from the various meetings that 
provide opportunity for us to test the GOC,s willingness to 
continue to make progress on issues of interest. 
FARRAR