Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla insisted Monday that Cuba cannot agree to fully normalized relations with the United States until the U.S. gives the naval station at Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba, and ends the decades-old trade embargo against the island.
In his historic remarks at the State Department as the first foreign minister of Cuba to speak there since 1958, Rodriguez added that the U.S. in the meantime should not expect Cuba to make any of the changes the U.S. has demanded, such as moves toward democracy or improvement in the area of human rights.
"The president of the United States can continue using his executive powers to pay a significant contribution to the dismantling of the blockade — not to pursue changes in Cuba, something that falls under our exclusive sovereignty — but to attend to the interests of U.S. citizens," he said as he stood next to Secretary of State John Kerry.
And while the theory has been for years that Cuba will have to compensate the United States for the property Cuba stole during the revolution in the early 1960s, Rodriguez said the U.S. must immediately pay Cuba compensation for the damages the embargo has caused its people.
"I emphasized that the total lifting of the blockade, the return of illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty, and the compensation to our people for human and economic damages, are crucial to be able to move towards the normalization of relations," he said.
Rodriguez's remarks are likely to further infuriate supporters of the embargo in Congress, who say the U.S. has already made concessions to Cuba just to get the embassies opened. To get that far, the Obama administration agreed to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and failed to make any push on issues such as respect for religious freedom in Cuba.
Under U.S. law, the embargo can only be removed as part of a comprehensive reconciliation with Cuba under which Cuba compensates the U.S. for the expropriation of various U.S. properties. The value of that expropriation has been estimated at more than $7 billion.
Rodriguez made no mention Monday of Cuba offering compensation for the theft of that property. But his call for the U.S. to compensate Cuba could be seen as a hint as to the sorts of counterclaims that Cuba may make to balance out U.S. claims for compensation over stolen property.
Regardless, his remarks showed that the two countries are still far from fully normalized relations, even though they have agreed to open embassies in each other's countries for the first time in more than 50 years.
Kerry admitted that the Obama administration has already said publicly it wants Congress to end the embargo against Cuba, which has restricted most trade with the island. But even Kerry said ending the embargo, now codified in U.S. law, could take years.
"Hopefully not too many years," Kerry offered. But still, he made the process sound like a long-term endeavor that would happen "at the appropriate time."
Kerry also rejected the idea that the U.S. would give up Guantanamo Bay as a condition of having normalized relations with Cuba.
"At this time, there is no discussion, and no intention on our part at this moment, to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station," he said. "But we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it."
As Kerry indicated, Cuba agreed to lease the facility more than 100 years ago, and even under the embargo, the U.S. has compensated Cuba for use of the base.