The highest-ranking U.S delegation in more than three decades visited Cuba this week to negotiate the reopening of U.S. and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington and set out an agenda for the broader normalization of relations between the longtime adversaries. A central U.S. demand is the lifting of Cuban restrictions on American diplomats traveling outside the capital. Diplomats accredited to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana now must seek special permission two weeks in advance if they want to leave Havana and the surrounding province. Cuban diplomats in Washington are under similar restrictions.
U.S. diplomats say the restrictions prevent them for talking to ordinary Cubans and severely curtail their mission.
The head of Cuba's delegation told The Associated Press Friday that Cuba is willing to consider granting the right of free diplomatic travel if the U.S. reduces support for dissidents. Cuba has long objected to the U.S. offering Internet access and classes in English, information technology and journalism inside the U.S. Interests Section, resources used by Cubans including some well-known dissidents.
"From inside the Interests Section they give classes and training and that isn't part of the recognized responsibilities of a diplomatic mission," Josefina Vidal told the AP. "Those are themes that we discussed in this meeting and that the U.S. delegation took note of."
Asked about whether reducing dissident support was a necessary condition for Cuba to allow U.S. diplomats free travel, Vidal said that, "We haven't presented it as a condition, we haven't used that word, but, yes, we've said that that consideration, on Cuba's part, is associated with better behavior."