[Marxism] No thaw with Cuba under Obama

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 16 11:43:59 MDT 2011

NY Times September 15, 2011
Americans and Cubans Still Mired in Distrust

MEXICO CITY — Bill Richardson had chits to offer Cuban officials 
in Havana this week if they released Alan Gross, the American 
contractor serving a 15-year sentence for distributing satellite 
telephone equipment.

Mr. Richardson, who has negotiated prisoner releases from Cuba to 
North Korea, had State Department approval to present at least two 
things, said four people with knowledge of the negotiations. One 
was a process for removing Cuba from the list of states sponsoring 
terrorism. The Obama administration was also willing to waive 
probation for one of the “Cuban Five,” as a group of Cuban agents 
accused of espionage in the United States are known on the island, 
so he could go home after he leaves prison next month.

But it was not enough. Mr. Richardson was not even allowed to see 
Mr. Gross, and when he left Havana on Wednesday, he was angry and 
disappointed, concluding that elements of the Cuban government “do 
not seem to really want warmer relations.”

That brand of bitterness is once again the modus operandi for 
United States-Cuba relations. American officials and experts say 
that Mr. Richardson’s failed trip was just the latest in a series 
of misunderstandings, missteps and perceived slights showing that 
both countries, after a moment of warmth, have slipped back into a 
50-year-old pattern of cold distrust.

“Neither side has shown the slightest interest in learning from 
experience and have demonstrated repeatedly the tragic way in 
which both sides are condemned to repeat their mistakes,” said 
Robert A. Pastor, a professor at American University who advises 
former President Jimmy Carter on Latin America. “It’s not just the 
Obama people. It’s the new people under Raúl Castro.”

This is not what either side expected. President Obama campaigned 
for greater engagement with Cuba, boldly telling a Miami audience 
in May 2008 that he would be open to meeting with Mr. Castro and 
forging warmer relations. Four months after he took office, he 
headed in that direction, abandoning longstanding restrictions on 
the ability of Cuban-Americans to visit the island and send money 
to relatives.

The Cuban government responded quickly. Meetings with American 
officials became more common during the first year of the Obama 
administration, including a gathering in Havana with the 
highest-ranking State Department official to visit Cuba since 
2002. Cuba also eliminated a 10 percent tax on remittances that 
had galled Cuban-Americans sending money to their families.

But the Gross affair cast doubt into the relationship. A 
contractor for a company financed by the United States Agency for 
International Development, Mr. Gross was arrested in December 
2009. Cuba charged him with crimes against the state for 
delivering banned equipment as part of a semicovert program aimed 
at weakening the Cuban government.

The arrest sent a chill through the diplomatic corps of both 
countries. The Cuban government has complained for years about 
“democracy programs” it says subvert its authority and 
sovereignty. Still, American officials said they did not expect a 
protracted affair. Indeed, relations were still good enough a 
month later to lay the groundwork for what some officials now see 
as a lost opportunity — a jointly run medical clinic in Haiti.

The idea emerged soon after the earthquake that flattened Haiti’s 
capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. Cuba quickly approved an 
American request to fly victims to Florida through Cuban airspace, 
and the country’s doctors won accolades from American officials.

That led to the idea for a more formal relationship and a new 
hospital for rural Haiti — in an area later ravaged by cholera. It 
was to be built and supplied with American aid, but staffed with 
Cuban doctors. According to current and former American officials, 
discussions moved smoothly over several months and were nearly 
complete when old sensitivities emerged.

“First the Cubans said, ‘We want to do this but you have to stop 
your efforts to recruit our medical brigades,’ ” said one American 
official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The Cubans were 
angered by a little-known program, started by President George W. 
Bush and continued by Mr. Obama, that assists Cuban doctors 
looking to defect, said several American officials.

Then, after the Obama administration signaled that it would not 
eliminate the program, Cuban officials were further incensed by an 
event at which they believed their country’s doctors were not 
given proper credit for their work in Haiti. Finally, just days 
before the agreement was to be signed, the Cuban government 
demanded that a second clinic be built in Port-au-Prince, at a 
cost of several million dollars. That killed the deal.

And from there, the relationship has continued to wither.

American officials say the Cubans missed an opportunity this year, 
when the White House and Senator John Kerry pushed to cut money 
for the democracy programs. If Cuba had released Mr. Gross then, 
officials said, the programs would have become less about 
weakening Cuba’s government and more about building civil society. 
Instead, Congress kept them largely intact.

For some time now, American officials said, Cuba has seemed 
uninterested in letting Mr. Gross go. The island of 11 million 
people is in the midst of its largest economic overhaul since the 
end of the Soviet Union — with a major drive toward private 
enterprise — and many Cuba experts believe that the country’s 
officials are engaged in an ideological war over how far and fast 
to go. Relations with the United States appear to have become 
secondary to domestic concerns, some argue. Or, they say, 
hard-liners seem to be winning the argument on foreign relations.

So while Mr. Richardson traveled with encouragement from the State 
Department, on what was officially labeled a private trip, several 
government officials said they were not surprised that his effort 

Mr. Richardson said that he had been invited, and that he had 
expected at least a meeting with Mr. Gross. Josefina Vidal 
Ferreiro, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s head of North American 
affairs, said Mr. Richardson had gone to Cuba “on his own 
initiative.” She did not discuss the broader strain in relations. 
But signaling that removal from the terrorism list and a minor 
change in the sentence of an accused Cuban spy was not sufficient, 
she said the release of Mr. Gross “was never on the table.”

And it may not be anytime soon.

One thing that might move Cuba, said an official who has 
negotiated the issue, is if the European Union changes its common 
policy limiting relations with Cuba because of human rights 
concerns. But he and other American officials said that until Cuba 
released Mr. Gross, Cuba would continue to be isolated. For now, 
his release — along with many issues involving Cuba — appears to 
be caught in an echo chamber of grievance shaped by decades of 
failed attempts at warmer United States-Cuba relations.

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