Cuba: Raul Castro meets with US senators

February 20, 2013 | Print Print |
US Senator Patrick Leahy and Cuban President Raul Castro talk in Havana. Photo: granma.cubaweb.cu

US Senator Patrick Leahy and Cuban President Raul Castro talk in Havana. Photo: granma.cubaweb.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban President Raul Castro met on Tuesday afternoon with a group of US senators and representatives visiting the island, among other things, to see US agent Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, reported DPA news.

The delegation of five senators and two representatives is led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, whose photograph with Castro ran Wednesday in Granma newspaper online.

The Cuban president and the US legislators “discussed matters of interest to both countries”, stated the Cuban TV news without going into any details.

The legislators are expected to pay a visit to Gross before leaving the island on Wedenesday.

Gross, 63, worked for a Development Alternatives Inc. covert “democracy building” project for USAID. He was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison on charges of violating the Cuban state security.

The delegation includes representative Chris Van Hollen, who represents Gross’s district in Maryland.

Havana has tried to negotiate the release of Gross in a possible trade for the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States since 1998 on charges of espionage. On the island the Cuban Five are promoted as heroes for their mission to stymie terrorist attacks against Cuba from Miami-based exile groups.

Washington has thus far refused to link the two cases, preferring to insist that Cuba must release Gross unilaterally.

The overall goal of the congressional visit appears to be seeking out a path to improved US-Cuba relations, marked by over a half century of hostility.

The Gross and Cuban Five cases are the high profile topics but laying the groundwork that could lead to reestablishing diplomatic relations and bilateral trade is the far greater challenge to the Obama and Castro administrations.

“Every one of us has an interest in Cuba,” Leahy told the foreign press upon his arrival to Havana on Monday. “We all want to see relations improve and both sides take steps in that direction,” he added.

Since the early 1960s, the United States maintains an economic and financial embargo on Cuba seeking to bring down the Castro government through hardship. It also forbids ordinary US citizens from traveling to Cuba without a special US Treasury Dept. license.

The embargo, which includes third country sanctions for doing business with Cuba, is rejected by almost every country in the world, exemplified by last year’s 188-3 vote in the United Nations.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Hear ye, hear ye! Yet another example of Cuban obstinance. Thiis delegation will return to the US without Alan Gross once again. In a HT post yesterday, a commenter claims to have started a petition for the US to unilaterally improve relations with Cuba. Given the success of this high-level trip to Cuba, here’s proof that the Castros like things just the way they are.

    • ac

      Of course they will return empty-handed. They want Gross in exchange for what exactly? Good will? Not going to happen. Trust and good will must earned and based on US-Cuba relationship in the last century Cubans have all the right to distrust US government.

      What about US dropping all government change policies, removing Cuba from the list of states sponsors of terrorism, stop considering Cuba an hostile state and remove the ban of US citizens to travel freely to Cuba if they wish? THAT will get them good will and a message that US is serious about improving relations.

      As for Gross, all Cuba wants is the release of the Cuban five. They already served 15 years, thats more than enough for the alleged crimes of spying on terrorist organizations. If the senators are serious enough, they should promise a review of the sentences or simply deport all of them -that after all are living on taxpayer money. That will get Gross released faster than all the tantrums in the world.

      • Moses Patterson

        AC, for the sake of argument, let’s agree that neither side has reason to trust the other side to do the right thing. On that basis, who benefits most by doing nothing? Who loses the most if no progress is made to improve relations. I argue that time is running out for the Castros. Literally. If Obama does nothing to warm relations with Cuba for the rest of his term, his legacy will be unaffected. The US economy is improving at a snail’s pace and the war in Afghanistan is ending with or without relations with Cuba. If Raul does not make significant changes to reinvigorate the Cuban economy in the next two years let alone four, do you expect Venezuelan subsidies to continue forever? Cuban infrastructure is literally crumbling and buildings are falling down every day. Cuba’s population shrank in 2011 and the trend is expected to continue. And so on. The US has no practical reason to expend the significant political capital to negociate with the Castros. If Obama were to make concessions to the Castros without some progress towards more measurable democracy in Cuba, he would be handing his strongest opposition here in the US its best rationale yet to criticism his liberal policies. The next move must be made by the Castros and it needs to be one that expands the freedom of the press or authorizes public dissension. Anything less than this is simply window dressing.

        • ac

          Yes, Cuba is a low-key issue for US and besides earning some good will from Latin America (and to a lesser degree the rest of th world) and some relatively minor bilateral trade the US has nothing significant to win so they can afford do nothing.

          For Cuba things are more urgent, yet Cuba is not in the wrong in the bilateral issues. They have the right to have whatever government system their people want and they are not trying to force their own ideology to US, so why would they make unilateral concessions based on vague promises? Even worse if said concessions have a large political impact locally as I mentioned before.

          Just stop for a second and analyze your own argument. What right do the US have to impose their will to citizens of a sovereign state? And why the double standard of stigmatizing Cuba while giving preferential trade treatment to China and Vietnam with the same type of government and worse HR record? Or with despotic countries like Saudi Arabia?

          If the US government were serious about democracy, it wont be supporting military coups around the world as it has been doing in the last century, and would have an unified policies in this regard and would stick to it for all countries.

          The fact that it doesn’t and singles-out Cuba as target of their hostility is pure hypocrisy and gives the Cuban government the ideological ammo they need to keep the siege mentality as pretext for their own shortcomings and restrictions of freedoms.

          As I said every time, level the field and remove the absurd and illegal requirements for government change, treat them as a regular neighbor country and let them float or sink according to their own strengths.

          • Griffin

            The US imposed similar trade embargoes on Vietnam and China. They lifted these embargoes when those countries entered into meaningful negotiations with the US to resolve the disputes. The Us has offered similar negotiation with Cuba, which the Castros have refused.

            One point you wrote must be refuted absolutely: the Cuban people did not chose the system they live under. Castro promised free elections within months of the revolution and then broke that promise. The Cuban political and economic system was imposed in the Cuban people without their choice. All the US is demanding is that the Cuban people be given the right to free elections. free speech and human rights.

          • dani

            This is totally untrue. The Cuban government offered negotiations on all issues even after the Bay of Pigs. They offered to have talks to resolve the immigration issue and for a long while were ignored. When Raul came to power he offered to have talks without preconditions and also more recently offered the same including discussing the issue of democracy in both countries. Obama’s reaction was “…there is no point talking for the sake of talking…. only if in our national interests blah blah blah…”

        • Elpidio Valdes

          Moses Patterson,with all due respect, you think and write in the same way the Israel Government does, and you treat Cuba with the same arrogant attitude of that mention government. Lets put the things clear before you start answering, I think the people of Israel have the right to have a country as the Palestinian does,but the reality is that Israel is a criminal and genocide government and do not think in the same way, but the Government of the State support them no matter what is happening with the Palestinian,, so you are trying to treat Cuba in the same way Israel does with the Palestinian, that is the arrogance of an American Citizen like you, you do not recognize the terrible mistake done by the American Government in the last 200 years, in Latin America, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now in Syria, and all because the American Government think that they are the ambassador in Earth of God? Who gave the US Government the right to act as God, because first of all God is again killing another human, and only in Viet Nam, the US killed almost 2 millions and destroy part of that country, that is not the word of Jesus Christ to all of us.

          I suggested you to look for the book of Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick – THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATE-, please get the book read it ,and I think,that if you are an honest man, you will have to think twice before writing something about Cuba as you did today.

          Have a great day and please read the book, is good for the soul.and the truth, in order to be in good position with God.