HAVANA (AP) — Cuba and the United States will debate human rights at a meeting in Washington on Tuesday in another sign of the thaw between the countries as they try to re-establish normal diplomatic relations after a 50-year freeze.
The discussions seem unlikely to lead to short-term changes in the way either country views rights issues. The U.S. is expected to press Cuba to allow its citizens greater freedom of speech, assembly and political activity. Cuba likely will respond with its own critiques of poverty, insufficient health-care coverage and excessive police force in the United States.
But observers say even the start of a dialogue is an indication of progress in the countries' broader move to normalize relations.
The U.S. had hoped to open an embassy in Havana by next month's Summit of the Americas in Panama. Both sides have gone silent on the state of negotiations with two weeks until the summit, raising the question of whether restoring full diplomatic relations will be more complicated than some initially hoped.
Other tracks, however, appear to be moving ahead as planned. A U.S. delegation of government telecommunications experts on Thursday wrapped up a three-day trip to Havana that included meetings with Cuban officials and academics to explain a new policy permitting greater American private sector dealings with the island's state-run telecoms sector.
The U.S. policy is designed to increase connectivity between the outside world and Cuba, which has one of the world's lowest rates of Internet use and steep international calling costs that make calling family abroad out of bounds for many people here.
Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba's deputy director for multilateral affairs and international law, told reporters Thursday that "these conversations about human rights show that Cuba is ready to discuss any topic with the U.S., despite our differences, and from a basis of equality."
U.S. and Cuban diplomats have said they expect human rights talks to become an ongoing feature of their countries' relationship.
Cuba is also holding continuing talks on human rights as part of broader discussions with the European Union. John Caulfield, who led the U.S. Interests Section in Havana until last summer, said he believed that regular discussion of rights could have a moderating effect on Cuba's treatment of dissidents, who regularly undergo short-term detentions in response to protests.
"The very fact, I think, that Cuba is in a formal process where they agreed to talk about human rights to the European Union and the United States makes it more difficult for them to do the heavy-handed stuff they've done in the past," Caulfied said.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein