Cuba Makes Overture to Obama

December 18, 2008 | Print Print |

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES, December 18.- Cuban President Raul Castro isn’t waiting for Barack Obama to take office on January 20th to make the first overture that could lead to defrosting US-Cuba relations.

During his first trip abroad since taking office in February, Castro told the press in Brazil that he was willing to free dozens of prisoners that Washington calls “dissidents” in return for the release of the Cuban Five, who have spent more than 10 years in US prisons.

In saying “Let’s do gesture for gesture,” the Cuban leader makes an attractive offer that would please his compatriots on both sides of the Florida Straights, reported the BBC.

“We’ll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts,” said Mr. Castro.

Who Are the Prisoners?

Washington’s “dissidents” have been the cornerstone of the Bush administration policy to try and build an internal opposition to the governments of Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul. They routinely received funds from Miami based groups and the US Interests Section in Havana and many were arrested during a crackdown on March 18, 2003.

Working for the enemy is not taken lightly in Cuba. The following month they were tried and received stiff sentences of up to 27 years in prison. Some received early release for health reasons.

A dozen or so wives of the prisoners dress in white and parade down Fifth Avenue in Havana’s Miramar district on most Sundays demanding their husband’s release.

Meanwhile, in the US, five Cubans continue in prison after more than 10 years for the “crime” of uncovering terrorist plots against the island being planned in Miami under the complacent eye of US authorities.

Shortly before their arrest, Cuba had made available to the White House the sensitive information gathered by the Cuban Five. However, the FBI proceeded to arrest the informers instead of the terrorists.

Detained in 1998 and convicted in a politically charged Miami courtroom in 2001 for conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents, the Cuban Five were sentenced to harsh terms ranging from 15 years to double life imprisonment.

To make their imprisonment even crueler, the Cubans faced long periods of solitary confinement and their family visits, supposedly guaranteed by US law, have been hampered at best and denied at worst.

Back home the Cuban Five are considered heroes and are never far from most peoples’ thoughts.

The Cuban people, like many Latin Americans, are very family oriented and the divisions created over the last half-century for political and economic reasons have been heartfelt.

If the new US administration decides to accept President Castro’s offer it would make a lot of people happy on both sides of the Florida Straits, providing a significant break in what appeared to be a never-ending diplomatic stalemate.


What's your opinion?

  • angie todd

    I have noted the ‘notable’ absence of ‘major’ media reporting or comment on the most significant part of Ra?l Castro’s visit to Brazil: Latin American and Caribbean integration for development, and this potential bloc visibly ‘coming of age’ (Ra?l), having its own force in the world; and Cuba no longer being out in the cold, having been accepted as a member of the Rio Group; and maintaining its own strength with new support.
    I think the Cuban president was aware of that, and having been pursued by journalists who only wanted to go on about the so-called disssidents imprisoned for being on the US payroll, told what to write and acting as a 5th column in Cuba, probably exasperated, said ‘OK , you can have them! But why don’t you ask about the Cuban five imprisoned in the United States?’ — given the wall of silence around that. issue.
    And then the media strung all that together and came up with a ‘prisoner swap’ deal.
    Ethically , Cuba would never do that, nor would the Cuban Five accept it.
    The only central issue posed by Cuba to the incoming Obama administration is an end to the blockade.