Cuba’s top expert on U.S. will lead talks

Josefina Vidal, director general for United States affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, will head the Cuban delegation at the talks next week (Jan. 21-22) in Havana on migration and diplomatic relations, the official daily Granma reported today (Jan. 16).

Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, will head the United States delegation

The meeting Wednesday will be devoted to “evaluating the process of the migration accords and the actions performed by both parties to deal with illegal emigration and the traffic in emigrants,” Granma said. Edward Alex Lee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, will handle the migration talks.

“On Jan. 22, the first meeting will be held on the process of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which, for the U.S. side, will be presided by [Ms. Jacobson.] At this meeting, the principles of and steps toward the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in both countries will be broached,” the newspaper continued.

“Later in the day there will be another exchange to broach bilateral issues, including areas of cooperation in topics of mutual interest.”

Josefina de la Caridad Vidal Ferreiro is an experienced diplomat. She studied international relations in Havana and Moscow before joining the Foreign Ministry. While at the University of Havana, she worked at a think tank devoted to the study of the United States. For a while she served as an analyst at the Cuban Embassy in Paris.

In 1999, she was posted to Washington, as first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, where she remained until May 2003. Returning to Havana, she coordinated the U.S. analysis group in the North American division of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. In 2006, she became director of the U.S. Affairs division.

Prof. John Henry Coatsworth, Provost of Columbia University and professor of international affairs, a scholar who has known Vidal since her arrival in Washington in 1999, describes her as “extremely smart, as tough-minded as she is flexible” and quotes diplomats who know her as saying that she is “reliable, authoritative and extremely capable negotiator.”

“She doesn’t miss a trick, one U.S. official told me, but she doesn’t pull any, either,” Coatsworth said during a visit by Vidal to Columbia University in 2013.
“I am quite certain that she knows more about the United States than most of the U.S. officials that she deals with know about Cuba,” he added.

Vidal speaks fluent — though slightly accented — English.

Roberta Jacobson
Roberta Jacobson

Roberta S. Jacobson is the highest ranking official from the Department of State to have visited Cuba on official travel in recent years; she traveled to Havana in 2011, when she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. Later that year, she was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State. Since that time, Department of State practice has been to limit high-level visits to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State level.

In years past, Jacobson served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Canada, Mexico and NAFTA issues (2007-2010); director of the Office of Mexican Affairs (2003-2007), and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lima (2000-2002). From 1996 to 2000, she served as Director of the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination in Western Hemisphere Affairs.

On Friday (Jan. 16) Jacobson met in Washington with the World Bank’s vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar. The meeting was barred to the press, but it could be assumed that one of the topics under discussion was bringing Cuba and the WB together now that Cuba is engaging in economic and financial reform. At present, Cuba is not part of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the Inter-American Development Bank.

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