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 Charge 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.
For further information, please contact WHA Press at WHAPress@state.gov.
Source: U.S. State Department.