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Coming perhaps as a relief to those who are rushing to "see Cuba before the Americans come," Cuba plans to preserve its social and political value system even as it moves toward liberalization of markets, and friendly relations with the U.S.
Normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba will not be an instantaneous process, and many issues will have to be carefully sorted out, according to Cuban officials speaking on Friday in Philadelphia.
In a rare public forum, Cuban officials were given a platform to state their points of view about the warming of relations between the two countries. Cuban Interests Section Deputy Chief of Mission Juan Lamigueiro and First Secretary Yanet Stable addressed The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, a private, non-partisan organization dedicated to creating global citizens.
The officials laid out some of their concerns in the ongoing progression of changing government relations between the two neighboring countries that have been estranged for the last half century.
"We must establish diplomatic relations and banking services, and understand that Cuba does not support international terrorism," said Lamigueiro. "We need to lift the embargo, discuss Guantanamo Bay and find a solution."
One item was checked off the list on the day of the conference itself. On Friday the Cuban Section in Washington reported that it had finally established banking services in the U.S. after more than a year during which it could not find a U.S. bank that would deal with Cuba.
But the process of normalization is still in its infancy, according to Stable. The two countries do not even have embassies in each other's countries yet.
"Opening up the embassies - which can be a long process - will help in establishing communication between the U.S. and Cuba," said Stable.
Lamigueiro and Stable made a number of points during the discussions, including the following.
• Cuba structures its "own form of democracy" differently than the way the U.S. is governed. The officials stated their belief that a majority of Cubans support the "revolutionary political system" of Cuba, and they stressed that the United States should not seek to impose its form of government on Cuba.
• However, although Cuba does not plan on modeling its government and society on that of the U.S., it has established reforms that allow more free enterprise in Cuba and more economic exchange with the U.S. Cuba wants to establish free tourism from the United States and hopes to welcome as many as 10 million American tourists to Cuba every year. To make this possible, Cuba is seeking significant U.S. foreign investment to build the infrastructure needed for mass- scale tourism.
• As these reforms take shape and evolve, Cuba will continue protect its "social and political values" despite economic liberalization, and will control the nature and the extent of foreign influence during the process of opening itself to the United States.
David Cogswell is executive editor covering tours and packages, Africa and the Middle East.
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