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Castro Demands Guantanamo Bay, US Laughs

A State Department official told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that Congress can rest easy knowing that there’s no chance the U.S. will return Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba in the course of reopening bilateral relations, Reuters reports.

Last week, Cuban President Raul Castro included the return of the base to Cuba in his list of demands in current talks to normalize relations between the two previously estranged countries, but Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson reassured Congress, “The issue of Guantanamo is not on the table in these conversations. I want to be clear that what we’re talking about right now is the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, which is only one first step in normalization.”

For the Obama administration, handing over Guantanamo Bay is not on the agenda of normalization, and neither is eliminating Radio and TV Marti, two media outlets currently funded by the U.S. government to oppose the Cuban regime.

Meanwhile, Congress still has the final say on ending the long-standing embargo against Cuba, even though Obama has already taken steps to ease the embargo and has promised to shut down detention facilities at the base, though incoming Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate Arms Committee that unlike Chuck Hagel, he won’t bow to external pressure from the White House to release detainees.

“I’ll play it absolutely straight,” Carter said, according to The Free Beacon.

According to Castro, easing the embargo isn’t good enough. The Cuban president wants the U.S. to compensate Cuba for damages and to lift the embargo entirely, saying at a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, “if these problems aren’t resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement wouldn’t make any sense.”

As a result, congressional lawmakers have wondered about the point of normalization and whether the U.S. stands to benefit from the talks, but some legislators have gone ahead and introduced legislation to revoke travel restrictions on Americans looking to visit Cuba. Yet, Congress as a whole remains skeptical of removing the embargo.

“The administration may have given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home and militant support for Marxist regimes abroad,” said Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

According to a poll conducted by Associated Press-GfK, the public stands in support of re-establishing ties, with 45 percent of Americans approving of full diplomatic relations. Only 16 percent remain opposed. AP-GfK used a sample size of 1,045 adults with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

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