HAVANA – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel welcomed on Monday US Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
During their meeting, Diaz-Canel and the US visitors exchanged views on the state of bilateral relations and possible areas of cooperation and “mutual interest,” Cuba’s state-run media reported.
Earlier, the communist island’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, who attended the meeting with Diaz-Canel, had spoken with Flake and Schmidt about US-Cuba relations as well as about the “negative” impact of the about-face in the bilateral rapprochement – begun in 2014 under former US President Barack Obama – implemented by the Donald Trump administration.
Flake, who has visited Cuba several times, the most recent trip being in January, is one of the main promoters in the US Congress of the rapprochement with Cuba and, in particular, of a bill that would eliminate travel restrictions to the island for US citizens.
The Trump administration months ago imposed new limitations on the travel of US citizens to Cuba, a country which Americans cannot visit as tourists due to Washington’s financial embargo.
During their meeting, Rodriguez thanked Flake and the Google exec for their interest in contributing to the debate in favor of an improvement in bilateral relations.
Google has been one of the tech giants that has been interested in moving into the Cuban telecommunications market since Obama launched the thaw in relations, although to date it has had only a very limited presence on the island.
Three years ago, the firm offered to broaden Internet access in Cuba, which is still far below average international levels, but the proposal never developed into a concrete program.
Flake and Schmidt were accompanied by US charge d’affaires in Cuba, Philip Goldberg, and Brett Perlmutter, the Google CEO’s adviser on Cuba.
Also participating in the meeting were the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s director and deputy director for the US, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio and Johana Tablada, respectively.
Cuba and the US reopened their embassies in Washington and Havana in 2015 and signed numerous cooperation accords in security, immigration, education, healthcare and culture, but Trump halted the normalization process, which was also negatively affected by alleged – and mysterious – attacks on US diplomats’ health on the island, a situation that resulted in the withdrawal of most US officials from the Havana embassy but for which the Cuban government has refused to take responsibility.