The "earliest opportunity" Would Be 8 March 2017- Why Was This Not Announced?

Press Releases: United States and Cuba Hold Fifth Bilateral Commission Meeting in Havana, Cuba

Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 7, 2016

The United States and Cuba held the fifth Bilateral Commission meeting in Havana, Cuba on Wednesday, December 7. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Mari Carmen Aponte led the U.S. delegation. Embassy Havana Chargé d’Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and Deputy Assistant Secretary John Creamer also attended for the United States. Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, led the Cuban delegation.

The United States and Cuba reviewed the achievements of the Bilateral Commission since diplomatic relations were re-established in July 2015. The Commission has prioritized and sequenced a number of bilateral initiatives since its first quarterly meeting in November 2015. The United States and Cuba have established dialogues on law enforcement, claims, human rights, and economic and regulatory issues, and have continued biannual Migration Talks. The Bilateral Commission has provided a framework to address trafficking in persons and the return of fugitives, as well as to schedule technical exchanges on law enforcement and environmental issues.

In the last 18 months, the United States and Cuba concluded 11 non-binding agreements, including Memoranda of Understanding on health, cancer research, agriculture, environmental cooperation, hydrography, marine protected areas, counternarcotics, federal air marshals, civil aviation, and direct transportation of mail. In the coming weeks, the United States and Cuba expect to sign agreements formalizing cooperation on law enforcement, conservation, seismology, meteorology, search and rescue, and oil spill response protocols.

The United States and Cuba have coordinated a number of high-level visits, including that of President Obama in March 2016, seven cabinet-level officials, and Dr. Jill Biden. Seven U.S. governors from New York, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, Missouri, and West Virginia have led trade delegations to Cuba since April 2015. More than 80 Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have visited Cuba in the last two years, many for the first time.

Purposeful travel by Americans to Cuba increased by approximately 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. Ten U.S. airlines now provide scheduled service between U.S. and Cuban cities, and Carnival cruises are docking in several Cuban cities, further connecting the U.S. and Cuban people. Under the Bilateral Commission, the United States and Cuba expanded educational and cultural exchanges. The number of Cubans studying in the United States increased 63 percent in academic year 2015-16. More than 2,000 U.S. students visited Cuba as part of their academic program in academic year 2014-15. The United States welcomed the first Cuban Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow to the United States. Four U.S. cellular providers offer roaming service in Cuba, further connecting Cuba and the United States.

The delegations agreed the Bilateral Commission has provided a framework for discussion of a wide range of issues. Where U.S. and Cuban interests align, including on counternarcotics, health, and environmental issues, the United States and Cuba have made important strides for the benefit of both peoples. Where the two countries have disagreements, including on human rights, the United States and Cuba have articulated those differences in a clear, productive, and respectful manner. The dialogues and working groups that fall under the Bilateral Commission framework have allowed the United States and Cuba to establish working relationships with counterparts, which are essential to continued bilateral cooperation, advancement of U.S. interests, and progress toward normalization.

The United States looks forward to hosting the next Bilateral Commission Meeting in Washington, DC at the earliest opportunity.

From The Ministry Of Foreign Affairs Of The Republic Of Cuba

The fifth meeting of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission was held on December 7th and was attended by the Cuban and US delegations presided over respectively by Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Director General of the US Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Mari Carmen Aponte, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Both delegations reviewed the agreements adopted at the fourth Bilateral Commission meeting held in Washington on September 30; defined the new steps that both parties intend to take in the next few weeks and made an evaluation of the work carried out since September, 2015, when the first meeting of this mechanism, intended to follow up on the relations between both countries, was held.

The two delegations recognized the progress made in the discussion of topics of mutual interest in areas such as diplomatic and cooperative relations, namely the realization of high level visits; the adoption of a new health agreement, particularly for cooperation in cancer control; the resumption of scheduled flights between the United States and Havana; the celebration of technical meetings on aviation safety and security, health, environmental protection, hydrography and others related to law enforcement; and the celebration of dialogues onissues of bilateral and multilateral interest, such as human rights and disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Cuban delegation insisted that, despite the positive steps taken by the US government, their limited scope and the persistence of the blockade have made it impossible to show significant results in the area of economic and commercial relations.  Thus, the Cuban delegation reiterated that, for Cuba and the US to be able to have normal relations, the lifting of the blockade will be essential.

Besides, in order to make progress in the normalization of relations, the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo should be returned to Cuba and other interventionist policies that are harmful to the Cuban sovereignty, which are still in force, should be abrogated.

The delegations from both countries committed to work during the next few weeks in the organization of new high level visits; to advance in the negotiation and eventual signature of several cooperative agreements in areas such as seismology, meteorology, land protected areas, marine pollution resulting from oil spills, law enforcement, search and rescue operations and the delimitation of the Eastern Gap in the Gulf of Mexico; to hold technical meetings on civil aviation andbetween Cuba's Border Guard and the US Coast Guard; and to hold meetings of the working groups on regulatory issues, energy, trade and investments and intellectual property, which are part of the Economic Bilateral Dialogue.

In assessing the work of the Bilateral Commission since its creation, both parties recognized the usefulness of this mechanism to resolve the problems affecting the relations between both countries, promote bilateral cooperation in mutually beneficial areas and advance in the process of improvement of relations.