Cuba proposes quick start to human rights dialogue with U.S.
By Daniel Trotta HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Thursday proposed that a pending human rights dialogue with the United States begin on Tuesday in Washington, parallel to ongoing negotiations about restoring diplomatic ties that were severed in 1961. "These conversations about human rights constitute an example of Cuba's disposition to approach any topic with the United States, despite our differences," Pedro Luis Pedroso, a foreign ministry official specializing in international law, told reporters in Havana. The proposal came at a time when progress toward restoring diplomatic relations between the longtime adversaries appears to have slowed. U.S. officials had no immediate comment on Cuba's proposal, which would put the human rights talks on a separate track from ongoing discussions aimed at re-establishing diplomatic relations. The diplomatic talks began with great fanfare in January. Since then, they have turned more secretive and now both sides are privately downplaying prospects for opening embassies in each other's countries before a regional summit set for April 10-11. The proposed human rights meeting would be the first of its kind for the former Cold War rivals. U.S. critics of President Barack Obama's opening to Cuba have blasted the human rights record of the country's Communist government, pointing to the one-party system and repression of free speech and assembly. Cuba in turn has criticized the United States for racial disparities and treatment of detainees held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay. Cuba also says health care and education are human rights that it provides at home and abroad. "There are different political systems and models for democracy. ... We live in a plural world and that pluralism should apply to the case of Cuba as well," Pedroso said. Cuba first proposed the human rights talks last year and reiterated its idea even before representatives from each side met in Havana in January to discuss diplomatic relations. Those talks continued in Washington in February and again in Havana this month, but the two sides have not announced when they might have their next session. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro are both due to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11, which could mark their first face-to-face meeting since the two leaders simultaneously announced the new direction for U.S.-Cuban relations on Dec. 17. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)