[Marxism] As Alan Gross Is Released, U.S. and Cuba Start Talks on Normalizing Relations
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 17 09:04:45 MST 2014
NY Times, Dec. 17 2014
As Alan Gross Is Released, U.S. and Cuba Start Talks on Normalizing
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — The United States will restore full diplomatic relations
with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than
a half century after the release of an American contractor held in
prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.
In a deal sealed during 18 months of secret negotiations hosted largely
by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis who hosted a final culminating
meeting at the Vatican, American and Cuban officials agreed to put aside
decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the island
nation just 90 minutes off the American coast.
The contractor, Alan Gross, boarded an American government plane bound
for the United States on Wednesday morning and the United States sent
back three Cuban spies who have been in an American prison since 1981.
American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States
intelligence agent who has been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years
and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap but released
separately on “humanitarian grounds.”
In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances,
travel and banking relations and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners
identified as political prisoners by the United States government.
Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place
for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by
Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to.
“Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course
in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban
people,” the White House said in a written statement.
President Obama plans to make a televised statement from the White House
at noon to discuss the breakthrough, which could shape his legacy
heading into his final two years in office.
Mr. Gross’s sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, was “beyond ecstatic” at the news
of his release, according to her husband, Harold. “We are extremely
grateful that he’s on his way home,” Mr. Rubinstein said by telephone
from Dallas. “It’s been a long ordeal.”
Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to finalize the
agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct
contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years,
American officials said.
American officials said Mr. Gross’s release was made on humanitarian
grounds and not directly part of a prisoner swap. Instead, the United
States traded the three Cuban spies for what officials called an
“intelligence asset” who has been imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in
January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist
government. Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to
immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about reestablishing
diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the
list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982,
the White House said.
Officials said they would re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry
out high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments within
months. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana
next month to lead an American delegation to the next round of talks on
Cuban-American migration. The United States will also begin working with
Cuba on issues like counternarcotics, environmental protection and human
The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12
categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances under
American law, including family visits, official visits and journalistic,
professional, educational and religious activities, public performances,
officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited.
Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties and raise the level of
remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three
months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding
remittances will no longer require a specific license from the
government. American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400
worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol
“This is being done because we believe the policy of the past has not
worked and we believe the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to
Cuba is through a different kind of policy,” a senior administration
official told reporters on a conference call under White House ground
rules that did not permit the official to be identified.
But the official said the shift would not diminish the American focus on
human rights in Cuba. “Our emphasis on human rights will be just as
strong and we believe more effective under this policy,” the official
said. “We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”
Mr. Gross’s health has been failing. He has reportedly lost more than
100 pounds in prison and is losing vision in his right eye. He went on a
nine-day hunger strike in April. After turning 65 in May, he told
relatives that he might try to kill himself if not released soon.
Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers were sharply critical of the
deal. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro
regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” said
Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee. “President Obama’s actions have vindicated
the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, considered a prospect for the 2016
Republican presidential nomination, told The Associated Press: “This is
going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in
Cuba. But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift
that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for
generations to come.”
Mr. Gross was in Cuba to deliver satellite telephone equipment that was
capable of cloaking connections to the Internet when he was arrested in
2009. The Cuban authorities, who tightly control access to the Internet
in their country, initially said he was a spy, and a court there
convicted him of bringing in the devices without a permit as part of a
subversive plot to “destroy the revolution.”
Mr. Gross’s case drew increasing attention as his health deteriorated.
He grew despondent and talked of suicide, and his wife, Judy Gross, and
other supporters made urgent pleas for his release, but off-and-on
diplomatic talks seemed to go nowhere.
Cuba has often raised the case of three of its spies serving federal
prison time in Florida, saying they had been prosecuted unjustly and
urging that they be released on humanitarian grounds. State Department
officials insisted that the cases were not comparable and that Mr. Gross
was not an intelligence agent.
Mr. Gross worked for Development Alternatives, of Bethesda, Md., and had
traveled to more than 50 countries as an international development
worker. The company had a $6 million contract with the United States
Agency for International Development to distribute equipment that could
get around Cuba’s Internet blockade, and Mr. Gross had made four
previous trips to Cuba in 2009.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former New Mexico governor and cabinet
secretary Bill Richardson and several members of Congress appealed for
Mr. Gross’s release, along with Jewish advocacy groups in the United States.
After visiting Mr. Gross in November, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of
Arizona and a longtime advocate of loosening the 50-year-old American
trade embargo with Cuba, said he was optimistic that the case would be
American lawmakers who have drawn attention to Mr. Gross’s case
celebrated his departure from Cuba. “Today, news of Alan’s release
brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has
called for his freedom,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas.
“I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked
tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”
The American government has spent $264 million over the last 18 years,
much of it through the development agency, in an effort to spur
democratic change in Cuba. The agency said in November that it would
cease the kinds of operations that Mr. Gross was involved in when he was
arrested, as well as those, disclosed by The Associated Press, that
allowed a contractor to set up a Twitter-like social network that hid
its ties to the United States government.
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