Is the U.S. moving toward a rational Cuba policy?

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During the 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama stated that he would be willing to meet without preconditions with the leaders of countries with which the United States has had hostile relations, including Cuba.

At an April 2009 summit meeting in Trinidad, Obama repeated his willingness to try to open up a new chapter in U.S. relations with Latin America. These statements received a guardedly positive response from left-wing leaders in the area, including Cuba's President Raul Castro.

Some hoped that perhaps it was a sign that things would go back to the "high point" in post-Revolution U.S.-Cuba relations, during the administration of Jimmy Carter where some significant advances were made.

The Cubans, though reluctant to raise unrealistic hopes, felt so too. President Raul Castro began to drop very broad hints that as a start, if the United States would release the Cuba 5, Cuba might respond with a parallel gesture, perhaps releasing some individuals that the United States claims are "political prisoners".

There has been some softening of; U.S. policy toward Cuba. Talks about visas for Cubans wishing to immigrate to the United States resumed this spring, and the Obama administration cancelled restrictions that had been imposed by George W. Bush on Cubans-Americans visiting their relatives in the island or sending them money.

However, the main Cuban wish list has been left untouched: An end to the 50 year trade blockade, an end to restrictions on travel by U.S. residents to Cuba, a change of the "wet foot-dry foot" policy that encourages dangerous rafter trips from Cuba to the United States, an end to U.S. efforts to destabilize Cuba and the extradition of anti-Cuba terrorists in the United States, such as Luis Posada Carriles, if not to Cuba then at least to Venezuela to stand trial, and freedom for the Cuban Five.

Over the last month, Cuba has offered a major gesture by starting to free the last of a group of Cubans sentenced to prison terms of various lengths for having accepted money from the United States to carry out anti-government activities, a specific violation of Cuban law. The Cuban government, the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government worked together to achieve the humanitarian release of these 52 people.

But as yet no move has been made to free the Five, and two of them have not even been allowed to receive visits from their wives.

Now a new issue has arisen: The arrest of a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor in Cuba late last year on suspicion of immigration and espionage violations. The arrestee is Alan Gross, who worked for his own company, D.A.I., under contract to the U.S. "Office of Transition Initiatives" (OTI). OTI is a secretive and scandal ridden USAID program whose job it is to fund projects within Cuba which are supposed to return the island to capitalism. Gross had entered Cuba on a tourist visa (that was the immigration violation) and had been working to provide Cuban dissidents with high powered and very expensive satellite phones, which are not permitted in Cuba. The State Department claims he was trying to help Jews in Cuba to maintain contact with the outside world, and on June 13 Secretary of State Clinton called on Jews in the United States to come to Gross's defense.

However, journalist and filmmaker Saul Landau, who is very familiar with the Cuba scene, talked to Jewish leaders in Cuba who told him that they had no problem in communicating with the outside world, and that they had never heard of Gross. Click here for more information.

So it would appear that Cuban security caught Gross dead to rights.

Landau says the United States should simply exchange 5 for a "Gross" (pun intended).

Some news reports suggest that the Obama administration might be on the point of loosening up rules for getting licenses for trips to Cuba, which was made very difficult by the Bush administration (See Ginger Thompson ("U.S. Said to Plan Easing Rules for Travel to Cuba", New York Times August 17). No official public statement has been made, but there is a strong bipartisan campaign to end the Cuba travel ban completely to which this could be a response. A bill to this effect (HR 4645) passed the House Agriculture Committee by a vote of 25 to 20 on June 30 and is awaiting further action.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has introduced a companion measure, S 3112.

The success of any effort to bring U.S.-Cuba relations out of the deep freeze still depends on people in the United States pressuring the White House, State Department and Congress to make these changes.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mario_carvajal/4739056675/sizes/o/

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  • It has been 12 years since Gerardo and the other 4 Avispas have been in jail for failing to register as agents of a foreign government and nothing more. Their sentences should have been at most 5 years of jail or repatriation. Their trial and sentences were a lynching rather than judicial process. Their trial and sentences are an embarrassment to the United States government. The vindictiveness of the Cuban American congressmen and a complicit FBI smack of a tale of a banana republic. They were the fallen for actions which took place in Cuba on February 24, 1996, when young men lost their lives due the recklessness of Jose Basulto. Basulto had repeatedly invaded Cuban waters and flown over Cuba after being warned not to do so. He did this for the last time causing the lives of 4 of his comrades in flight. The Avispas were accessible and they incurred the wrath of the Cuban community for this act and for the Elian Gonzalez debacle. They have paid dearly with 12 years of their lives behind bars. They should be returned to Cuba. Gross should be allowed to come back to the US. If only Obama will make true his campaign promises and bring some sanity and restore diplomacy in place of madness between the two countries.

    Posted by Alina M. Lopez Marin, 09/01/2010 11:19pm (4 years ago)

  • Companero Gonzalez;
    I am no afficionado of Obama, but give credit where credit is due! At least he is proposing loosening up the restrictions! This more than what Clinton ever did!

    While it is our right (and duty) to critique our elected officials, we must never forget that with constant pressure from the people... CHANGES OCCUR!

    Richard M. Nixon was no friend of the people. However much to his credit he did three things that I must say did help out during his corrupt regime: 1) passage of the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA), 2) normalized relations with the Soviet Union, 3) more normalized relations with the People's Republic of China. For whatever were his reasons, Nixon did support these activities.

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 08/19/2010 1:23pm (4 years ago)

  • To Jorge Gonzalez, with all due respect, you might consider reading the article before jumping to the conclusion that it is a hymn of praise for Obama policy on Cuba. If there are changes in Cuba policy, they will come as a result of popular pressure, as the last sentence in the article says.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 08/19/2010 11:43am (4 years ago)

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