Cuba Talks Turn Awkward Over Terror Listing

President Obama Holds End-Of-Year News Conference At The White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama faced questions on various topics including the changing of Cuba policy, his executive action on immigration and the Sony hack. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Another round of talks, another round of smiles Friday, as negotiators for Cuba and the United States joined in stepping carefully around the first obvious obstacle to emerge in their joint effort to re-establish diplomatic relations.

The latest meeting was only their second, this time in Washington. Diplomats from both countries crowded around an array of tables at the State Department for what U.S. officials cautioned in advance would be a more “workmanlike” session, less dramatic than the historic inaugural session in Havana in January. That was the first since Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro surprised the world by announcing an intention to reconcile in parallel announcements Dec. 17.

At the time, Obama signaled what sounded very much like an inclination to remove Cuba from the short, brutish roll of nations the State Department lists as official sponsors of terror: The only other countries saddled with the designation are Iran, Syria and Sudan. “At a time when we are focused on threats from Al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction,” Obama said. But actually removing a nation from the list, and freeing it from the attendant sanctions, turns out to be taking longer than expected. “On why it’s taking so long, I’ve got to tell you it’s just these processes tend to be a little bit more complicated than they seem, and that’s all I’m going to say,” a senior State Department official said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The consequences of the delay may only be atmospheric, but mood has been one of the things the Obama administration has had going for it on this story. The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, said at the close of Friday’s session that removal from the list was not a strict precondition to resuming ties, but repeated that it is “a very important issue” to Havana, which has harped on it both publicly and privately. And privately,the terror list may indeed have been mentioned as a precondition to re-opening embassies: “It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations,” the State Department official said in the background briefing with reporters, “if they would not link those two things.”

What’s more, a 45-day interval built into the assessment process means that Cuba will still carry the designation when Castro and Obama meet at the Summit of the Americas, set for the second week of April in Panama City. The confab was envisioned as a celebratory session that marked the end not only of the 50-year cold war between countries, but also of Washington’s estrangement from a Latin American establishment that largely esteems Havana.

The delay clearly pleases Congressional critics of the reconciliation, led by favorites of the Cuban exile community based in Miami. “President Obama and his negotiating team need to stop looking so desperate to secure a deal with the Castro regime to open an embassy in Havana, at any cost, before this April’s Summit of the Americas,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who also noted the arrest of 200 dissidents in Cuba the previous two weeks. Detentions of activists, often held only a short time, remains routine in Havana, the State Department has noted, and U.S. officials take pains to pay respectful visits to some of the island’s most prominent dissidents.

But on the narrow question of re-establishing diplomatic ties, the nominal point of the talks, both sides appear to be on the same page. “On the issue of the themes on the agenda that were of concern to us, I think we did make progress on a number of them,” said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Jacobson after the meeting. “Some of them, quite honestly, are close to resolution.” Vidal said much the same in a separate news conference. And the negotiators, at least, appeared intent on sustaining the gestures of good will that began in December with an exchange of prisoners, and is supposed to proceed to an exchange of ambassadors. Said Jacobson, in answer to question: “I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas.”


Cuban President Raúl Castro Honors Spies Jailed in U.S. as National Heroes

Raul Castro, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino,  Antonio Guerrero
Ramon Espinosa—AP Cuba's President Raul Castro and Gerardo Hernandez salute, as fellow agents Ramon Labanino, background, second from right, and Antonio Guerrero applaud during a medal ceremony, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015

The awards come despite thawing relations between Washington and Havana

Cuban President Raúl Castro awarded medals to five men on Tuesday, calling them national heroes for their espionage work in the U.S.

“The Cuban Five,” as they were nicknamed, had attempted to infiltrate Cuban exile groups within the U.S. but were arrested and imprisoned in 1998, Reuters reports.

All were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, but three were released from U.S. custody on Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama announced a shift in Washington’s relationship with Havana. (The remaining pair had already returned to their homeland.)

In exchange for the final three spies, the Cuban government released a Cuban prisoner convicted 20 years ago of spying on his home country for the U.S.

The prisoner exchange was one element of a dramatic recent shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. Both countries have announced that they will restore diplomatic relations after decades of hostility and sanctions.

The Cuban Five were presented to a group of Cuban government officials, military officers and dignitaries at the Cuban parliament. Castro led the ceremony, but his brother, former President Fidel Castro, was not seen. Fidel, 88, has not appeared publicly in over a year.

Gerardo Hernandez, 49, was the leader of the arrested spies. “The honor that we receive today also demands that we rise to the challenges facing the revolution,” he said.


TIME Congress

What Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Havana Means

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Dec. 5, 2014.

Members of Congress have been traveling to Havana for a while, preparing the ground for the coming rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. But Nancy Pelosi’s arrival on the island Tuesday adds a certain weight to the process. Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the House minority, has become the most senior congressional leader to visit Cuba, a nominal milestone in every sense of the word but one that nonetheless helps to sustain the momentum begun with the Dec. 17 joint announcements of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro.

And momentum matters on the Cuba question. Obama has moved with real dispatch, first with the surprise announcement that he intended to re-establish diplomatic ties with a state that has been regarded as an outlaw by previous administrations dating to 1961 and then by taking less than four weeks to publish new rules allowing U.S. citizens to travel to the island and send money there. But there’s a limit how much any president can do. The matrix of legislation that together are known as the Embargo can be undone only by Congress, a constitutional reality not lost on the Cuban officials working closing with the Obama administration to sustain the sense the countries stand on the cusp of a new era.

“The power in the United States is not the President,” a senior Cuban official informed me late last month, in the corridor of the Havana hotel and convention center where a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and her Cuban counterpart had just concluded a day of talks on re-opening embassies. “Don’t be fooled,” the official said with a knowing look. “There’s what he’s allowed to do.”

Re-opening embassies is one thing a president is allowed to do, and the talks aimed at doing that had evidently gone well, not least because the Cubans themselves gave every indication of understanding that the real challenge was not about ambassadors but the congressional battle that lay ahead. U.S. policy on Cuba had been largely dominated by the Cuban exile community that fled the island after the 1959 revolution. And if Obama’s overture to Havana was based on a calculation that the exiles’ time has come and mostly gone, the lobby’s clout remains a formidable thing on Capitol Hill, where, for instance, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee is New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the son of Cuban emigrants.

In meeting with government officials, Pelosi’s codel, or Congressional Delegation, will no doubt be quizzed on the prospects for rolling back the Embargo. The answer is partly evident in the presence of a Democratic with a reputation as partisan as Pelosi’s: Support for the outreach to Cuba, while not defined cleanly on party lines, skews Democrat. But part of the answer lay in list of non-official Cubans the five House Democrats meet with on their visit. One stop will be Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the local leader of the Catholic Church whose leader, Pope Francis, played a crucial role in persuading the longtime enemies to come together, and afforded an ecclesiastical cover for a political change.

More importantly, the Americans will also meet with what Pelosi’s news release referred to as “members of civil society,” code language for political dissidents who cycle in and out of detention in Cuba, a one-party state that insists that criticism can occur only “inside the system.” Hence the inclusion of Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, co-chair of the congressional Human Rights Commission. Conspicuous demonstrations of support for these lonely dissenters were a key element of the State Department delegation, and will be for all U.S. officials — not only out of principle, but to show skeptics watching on the Hill that renewing ties to Havana does not meaning letting the Castros declare victory. And since the next round of talks is slated to take place in Washington next week, Pelosi’s visit also offers the opportunity to keep the focus on the island in question.

With reporting from Dolly Mascareñas in Mexico City.

TIME Television

Conan O’Brien Is the Right Man for a Visit to Cuba

The first late-night show broadcast from Cuba will be hosted by the perfect person for the job

A longstanding media blackout is about to be broken by—of all people—a basic-cable talk show host.

Conan O’Brien, who is currently filming material for the March 4 episode of his talk show, will become the first late-night host to broadcast from Cuba since America’s now-loosened embargo on the island nation began; after President Obama announced the relaxation of the embargo late last year, news anchors have traveled there, but not talk-show hosts. The fact that O’Brien is the “first” talk show host to make such a trip feels like a meaningless statistic: It’s hard to imagine any other host even having the idea to go in the first place.

Conan has been airing on TBS since 2010 (some months after his hosting The Tonight Show fell apart), and has been less able than his broadcast-network counterparts to lure big stars on a consistent basis. In order to earn good ratings, or, more realistically, to get clips circulated on entertainment blogs on weekday mornings, O’Brien has had to rely on stunts with varying degrees of effectiveness. While Jimmy Fallon on NBC and Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, particularly, have been easily able to put together bits where the mere participation of a celebrity is the joke, O’Brien has had to be wilier and more resourceful—or at least more extreme, as with his recent trip to the sauna with a star of The Walking Dead. It wasn’t really funny, but it went far harder than Fallon or Kimmel might have (to say nothing of the other major-network host, David Letterman, who’s winding down his show now).

Neither Kimmel nor Fallon would have done this, because they don’t need to; that is, when you can get Emma Stone or Katy Perry to be a part of your stunts, the concept doesn’t need to be quite so elevated. The fact that this presents a major opportunity for Americans to learn about a country to which access has long been restricted says something for the virtuous nerdiness that’s always been a part of O’Brien’s brand (and part of what made him such a poor fit for the un-cerebral Tonight Show). But let’s be honest: The show will be more jokes derived from man-on-the-street interviews than facts about Cuban culture and the effects of the embargo. And that’s fine!

Consider the late-night environment into which O’Brien is launching his show. When Fallon recently went on the road, it was to the Super Bowl host city of Phoenix, and then to Los Angeles, all places where his particular brand of access-driven hosting could thrive. If O’Brien interviews any recognizable celebrities in Cuba, they’ll be ones he brought with him. The Cuba broadcast comes with significant risk—in particular, the chance that he’ll be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as condescending to a group of people whose years under the Castro regime have given them enough to worry about without a comic coming in and joking at their expense. But the upside is high for a host who has grown wily enough, in his wilderness years, to make comedy without stars present. If anyone was going to be the first, and perhaps only, host to do this, it would’ve been O’Brien—and we’re better off for it.

TIME Research

Scientists Say Aggressive New HIV Strain Discovered in Cuba

Reports of people in Cuba infected by new strain developing AIDS in less than three years

A recently-discovered form of HIV in Cuba has been found to progress into AIDS some three times faster than the most common strains of the virus, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, followed several reports of HIV-infected people in Cuba developing AIDS in less than three years, far faster than the usual 10 years it typically takes. All patients infected with CRF19, a recently-discovered strain of the HIV virus, had higher levels of it in their body.

They were also more likely to have developed AIDS within three years, the study published in the journal EBioMedicine found. The researchers, who looked at 95 patients at various stages of infection, concluded that the strain must be “particularly fit.”

Approximately 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS, and nearly 40 million have died of the disease since the 1980s. Drugs exist to keep the worst effects of the disease at bay, but this new strand threatens to take a toll on patients before they realize they need treatment.

TIME celebrities

Conan O’Brien Just Filmed an Episode in Cuba

It's the first time a U.S. talk show has visited the country in decades

Comedian Conan O’Brien has just spent several days filming in Havana for the March 4 episode of his late-night TBS Conan talk show, promising viewers a rare insight into Cuba since the 1962 U.S. embargo.

The last time an American show of its kind visited the country was in 1959, when Jack Paar of the Tonight Show interviewed Fidel Castro.

Conan used the Presidents’ Day holiday, when he does not air a live episode, to make this trip to Cuba, which he has been discussing for months, Deadline reports.

Conan’s entry into Cuba comes after the U.S. announced plans to normalize ties with Cuba in December 2014.


TIME Companies

Netflix Will Launch in Cuba

The Netflix Inc. website is displayed on a laptop computer.
Bloomberg—Getty Images

The Cuba launch comes on the heels of the compnay's Asian expansion announcement

Netflix is bringing its original series and vast entertainment libraries to Cuba nearly two months after President Obama ended the more than 50-year-long embargo against our southern neighbor.

The Los Gatos, Calif., -based company plans to expand locally as Cuban customers gain better Internet access and credit and debit cards become more widely available, according to a statement. It will offer subscriptions starting at $7.99 a month.

“We are delighted to finally be able to offer Netflix to the people of Cuba, connecting them with stories they will love from all over the world,” said CEO Reed Hastings. “Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience of over 57 million members.”

The online streaming service serves customers across nearly 50 countries, including 5 million members across Latin America. Netflix’s Cuba launch comes on the heels of its Asian expansion announcement. The company will launch in Japan this fall and plans to complete its global rollout by the end of 2016.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

TIME portfolio

The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 30 – Feb. 6

From New York’s deadly train crash and night surfing in the Mediterranean sea to China’s traditional eagle hunters and a Fifty Shades of Grey inspired “Fifty Shades of Cake” exhibition in England, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.


Cuban Media Publishes New Photos of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro Cuba
Cubadebate/Reuters Former Cuban President Fidel Castro and President of Cuba's University Students Federation (FEU) Randy Perdomo look at a newspaper during a meeting in Havana on Jan. 23, 2015.

Amid rumors of failing health, local media shows the 88-year-old leader sitting upright and holding meetings

Fidel Castro appeared in 21 new photos released to Cuban media outlets, ending the 88-year-old former leader’s five month absence from the public eye, which had fueled speculative reports of his demise.

“Cuba is anxious to know about him,” read a story in Cuba’s state-run paper, Granma, which showed Castro sitting upright in a meeting with a student association, CNN reports.


Cuba Urges Washington to Halt Support for Dissidents Before Talks Resume

US Restores Diplomatic Relations With Cuba
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Cuban Foreign Ministry director for North America Josefina Vidal delivers brief remarks to the news media in Havana on Jan. 22, 2015

The island nation wants U.S. diplomats to stop supporting Cuban opposition parties

Cuba warned the U.S. this week against aiding opponents of Havana’s communist government, as the two countries move toward re-establishing diplomatic ties after over 50 years of adversarial relations.

In an interview broadcast on state television, the island nation’s top official for U.S. affairs said that the establishment of an American embassy in Cuba is contingent on a scaling back of support for dissident groups, Reuters reports.

“The total freedom of movement, which the U.S. side is posing, is tied to a change in the behavior of its diplomatic mission and its officials,” Josefina Vidal said, ahead of a second round of bilateral talks to be held in Washington next month.

“Matters of the internal affairs in Cuba are not negotiable,” Vidal added.

Much of the Cuban diaspora in the U.S. remains hostile to the Castro regime, including many influential figures in Washington.


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