Cuba remains unconvinced U.S. has given up ‘regime change’ policy

Children play soccer in front of graffiti depicting Cuba's national flag, in Havana July 15, 2015.  REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Children play soccer in front of graffiti depicting Cuba’s national flag, in Havana July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Cuba remains unconvinced the United States has stopped trying to remove the Communist Party from power despite a public pledge from President Barack Obama disowning “regime change,” a Cuban foreign ministry official said on Thursday.

With the two longtime adversaries set to restore diplomatic relations on Monday after a 54-year break, Cuba said the United States would need to abandon its policy of regime change in order to improve overall ties.

At the Summit of the Americas in Panama where Obama met face-to-face with Cuban President Raul Castro in April, the American president told a news conference: “On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change.”

That signaled a break from U.S. efforts to overthrow or destabilize the Cuban government since Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power in a 1959 revolution. Fidel Castro, 88, retired in 2008 when his brother Raul, 84, took over.

“You have to appreciate the words of the president … but you have to see what happens in practice,” Gustavo Machin, deputy director for U.S. affairs in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, told reporters.

“We haven’t seen anything” suggesting practical change, he said.

Machin cited multimillion-dollar annual budgets for what are commonly called the Cuban democracy programs, which Cuba sees as hostile efforts to undermine its government and socialist political system.

The 2016 U.S. State Department budget request includes $20 million for such programs to aid victims of political repression, support civil society and promote free speech.

“We recognize the statement by the president, but you have to see the practical impact of what happens, don’t you?” Machin said.

Diplomatic relations will be restored on Monday when the so-called interests sections in Washington and Havana will be upgraded to embassies.

Cuba will hold a ceremony in Washington with some 500 guests and a delegation led by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who will become the first foreign minister to travel to the United States on an official visit since the 1959 revolution, Machin said.

The United States has yet to set a date for Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Havana and raise the U.S. flag.

After embassies open, the two sides have pledged to begin a lengthy and complicated attempt to normalize overall relations, which today are impeded by matters such as the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba and U.S. control of the Guantanamo Bay naval base in eastern Cuba.