U.S.-Cuba sign torrent of agreements under the inauguration wire

The United States and Cuba on Wednesday signed a treaty delineating their maritime boundary in the eastern Gulf of Mexico amid a torrent of last-minute negotiations between the two governments in the outgoing days of the Obama administration.

In the past two weeks, Washington and Havana also inked agreements on joint responses to potential oil spills and other pollution in the gulf and the Florida Straits; cooperation on law enforcement and information sharing; and maritime and aeronautical search and rescue.

Teams from the two governments also held their third meeting on outstanding monetary and property claims and held discussions about cooperation on human trafficking.

Last week, Obama unilaterally eliminated special preferences for Cubans seeking admission to the United States, including the 20-year-old “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that automatically allowed any Cuban reaching U.S. soil to stay and be given near-automatic approval for permanent residence.

Since Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced in December 2014 that they would normalize relations, the two governments have established a number of task forces to resolve outstanding issues between them.

That process sped up considerably this month as President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration approached. Trump has said that Obama got a “bad deal” from Cuba and that Castro should have made more concessions toward civic and political freedoms on the island. Obama has repeatedly argued that more U.S.-Cuba contact will force the government’s hand.

While Trump has not said he will seek to re-sever diplomatic relations, reestablished with the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana in July 2015, he has indicated he will review regulatory changes under which Obama eased long-standing trade and travel restrictions.

The new maritime treaty, which must be ratified by the Senate before taking effect, delineates the part of the U.S.-Cuba maritime boundary that had not been previously agreed upon. According to the State Department, it “covers an area of the continental shelf in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that is more than 200 nautical miles from any country’s shore.”

Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post

January 18, 2017

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