Fledgling Cuban independent online newspaper 14ymedio on Wednesday published an interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who expressed hope that Havana’s economic reforms will be accompanied by greater “rights and freedoms.”
Biden was interviewed by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who last week launched the communist-ruled island’s first news outlet not controlled by the state in 50 years.
The website has since been intermittently blocked in Cuba, where readers were redirected to a site ridiculing Sanchez, casting cold water on hopes the government would tolerate an independent news presence.
Sanchez, who interviewed Biden in Washington several weeks ago, asked whether a new Cuban law loosening restrictions on foreign direct investment would spur any changes in U.S. policy, specifically allowing Americans to invest in Cuba.
“We note the Cuban government’s changes to its investment laws, and hope that such efforts to attract foreign investment to Cuba will be accompanied by expanded rights and freedoms for the Cuban people to allow them to realize their full potential,” Biden said, according to an English transcript of the interview provided by a U.S. administration official.
The publication of the interview coincided with a visit to Havana by a delegation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to promote closer economic ties despite a U.S. trade embargo in effect since 1960.
Biden made no mention of the trade embargo.
He praised the Cuban emigration reforms last year that lifted restrictions on travel, and U.S.-Cuban dialogue on issues like immigration and the environment.
But he said, “we remain deeply concerned by the continued arrest and abuse of Cuban citizens for exercising freedoms that are protected elsewhere in the Americas.”
Biden stressed that the United States “will continue to support courageous Cuban citizens who seek to exercise their freedoms.”
He also cited the case of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, warning it was “a major impediment to improved relations between the United States and Cuba.”
“We can be as creative as we like with our policy, but Alan’s case remains at the top of our list for resolution.
“He deserves to come home, and should be released on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
Gross, 65, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after his arrest for allegedly distributing telecommunications equipment on the island.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]