Cuba will not make any political or policy concessions to improve relations with the U.S. — no matter how small, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Wednesday, snubbing Washington's suggestions that some reforms could lead to better ties.
He told a news conference that the United States must lift its 47-year-old trade embargo without waiting for anything in return.
Rodriguez said U.S. trade sanctions have cost the island $96 billion in economic damage since they took their current form in February 1962 as part of the Trading with the Enemy Act.
"The policy is unilateral and should be lifted unilaterally," Rodriguez said.
He called President Obama "well-intentioned and intelligent" and said that his administration has adopted a "modern, less aggressive" stance toward the island.
But Rodriguez shrugged off the White House's April decision to lift restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to visit or send money to relatives in this country, saying those changes simply undid a tightening of the embargo imposed by President George W. Bush.
"Obama was a president elected on a platform of change. Where are the changes in the blockade against Cuba?" Rodriguez asked. Cuban officials have for decades characterized American trade sanctions as a blockade.
Obama has suggested it may be time for a new era in relations with Cuba, but has also said he will not consider lifting the embargo. On Monday, he signed a measure formally extending the policy for one year.
U.S. officials have said for months that they would like to see the single-party, communist state accept some political, economic or social changes before they make further modifications to Cuba policy, but Rodriguez said it was not up to his country to appease Washington.
The foreign minister also refused to comment on suggestions by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that Cuba take small steps to improve relations with the U.S.
The governor, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested during a recent visit here that Cuba reduce restrictions and fees for islanders who want to travel overseas and accept a U.S. proposal to let diplomats from both countries travel more freely in each other's territory.
Rodriguez took office after a March shake-up that ousted much of Cuba's younger leadership, including Foreign Minister and former Fidel Castro protege Felipe Perez Roque.
Officials from the U.S. and Cuba plan to meet Thursday in Havana to discuss reviving direct postal service between their countries, but Rodriguez refused to comment. Mail between the U.S. and the island has had to pass through third countries since August 1963.
"These talks are exploratory talks of a technical nature," said Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy.
"They support our efforts to further communication with the Cuban people and the administration sees this as a potential avenue to improve communication between our countries' peoples," she told The Associated Press.
Rodriguez said the embargo itself blocks such communications, as well as costing Cuba $1.2 billion a year in lost tourism revenue.
"The only country in the world where they prohibit the travel of Americans is to Cuba," he said. "Why? Are they afraid that they could learn firsthand about Cuban reality?"