Cuba and United States draw up roadmap for talks to deepen detente

Passengers of the first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades, walking in the streets of Havana right after disembarking on May 2, 2016.
Passengers of the first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades, walking in the streets of Havana right after disembarking on May 2, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba and the United States aim to reach new agreements on cooperation in law enforcement, health and agriculture over the coming months, a senior Cuban official said on Monday (May 16), as part of the former Cold War foes' drive to normalise ties.

The Communist-ruled island and its northern neighbour reestablished diplomatic relations a year ago after decades of hostility and have since signed deals on the environment, postal services and direct flights.

A bilateral commission met on Monday in Havana to establish a roadmap for talks over the rest of this year, which would include more high-ranking official visits, said Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation.

In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president in 88 years to visit Cuba. "The agenda is quite ambitious," Vidal told a news conference, adding that talks about intellectual property rights were also in the cards.

The two sides had discussed holding dialogues on human rights and claims, the US embassy in Cuba said in a statement.

They already outlined their respective claims late last year, with the US seeking upwards of US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) in compensation for nationalised properties and Cuba demanding at least US$121 billion in reparations for the US trade embargo and other acts it described as aggression.

"The United States looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future," the embassy said. "Tomorrow (we) will discuss specific steps related to bilateral security during the law enforcement dialogue."

Vidal, who is the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief of US affairs, said the island was hopeful that whomever became next the US president would continue to deepen the detente. The United States will hold a general election on Nov8.

"When you look at the polls, the majority of the American population and the Cuban American community are in favour of the normalisation of relations," she said. "So I expect their opinion will be taken into account."