U.S. and Cuba say they’d like to see a changed relationship
U.S. and Cuba say they'd like to see a changed relationship
But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson says during a
Miami trip that the jailing of Alan Gross and Cuba's lack of political
progress are stumbling blocks
By MIMI WHITEFIELD
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta
Jacobson said Friday that she hoped Cuba was sincere about wanting to
improve relations with the United States.
"I start from the position of an optimist in government in that I hope
they want to improve relations; I do hope so,'' said Jacobson, who was
in Miami to attend the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric
Policy's 7th Annual Latin America Conference.
A day earlier in an interview with CNN, Josefina Vidal, director of the
North American Division in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said that for
many years Cuba has been "conveying to the U.S. side our willingness to
have a comprehensive political dialogue… to solve all our historical
problems'' and to have a mutually beneficial relationship.
But at this point, neither side appears to be actively engaged in
improving the contentious relationship.
During a speech at the conference, Jacobson said the United States had a
"positive policy'' toward Cuba — "one that seeks to support Cubans'
right to freely determine their future."
She cited Obama administration steps to ease travel restrictions for
Cuban-Americans as well as allowing higher levels of remittances and
more travel for religious, academic and cultural purposes by other
"We believe that these policies are enhancing the independence of the
Cuban people from the state, and we will be the first to cheer when a
democratically chosen government in Cuba resumes its full participation
in the inter-American system,'' said Jacobson, who was confirmed six
weeks ago after serving as acting assistant secretary since July 2011.
She acknowledged that the situation of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for a
U.S. Agency for International Development program, is a stumbling block
in improving the relationship. Gross is jailed in Cuba for "actions
against the integrity of the state.''
But there are other factors, too, she said, particularly the need for
progress on the political side to allow Cubans to exercise their civil
and political rights.
When it comes to Gross, Jacobson said, the Cuban government "must free
him immediately without conditions.''
As a humanitarian gesture, Gross' U.S. lawyer has asked that he be
allowed to travel to the United States for two weeks to visit his
90-year-old mother Evelyn, who is battling inoperable lung cancer.
The United States recently allowed René González, one of five Cuban
agents convicted of spying on the United States, to return to Cuba for
two weeks to see his brother Roberto, who also is suffering from cancer.
González, who had served a 13-year term in the United States but is
still on probation, returned to the United States after his visit as agreed.
In the CNN interview, Vidal said Cuba is ready "to find a solution, a
humanitarian solution to Mr. Gross' case on a reciprocal basis.''
In the past, the Cubans have indicated they might be interested in
swapping the so-called "Cuba Five'' for Gross, an option that doesn't
interest the United States.
Jacobson said there aren't currently any negotiations underway with Cuba
regarding Gross' release.
Pressed by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on why Cuba wouldn't temporarily
release Gross to see his dying mother in Texas, Vidal responded, "In the
case of Mr. Alan Gross, he started to serve his prison term three years
ago'' and the "conditions under which he is now do not allow him to go
A U.S. official who asked for anonymity said Cuba had approached the
United States about having Evelyn Gross go to Cuba to visit her son.
However, the official said she is too ill to travel and "that's not an
Gross' family has even presented medical documents from her doctors
stating she is too ill to travel, the official said.
But Cuba was far from the only topic of discussion at the UM Latin
During her speech, Jacobson said that despite the United States' growing
interest in the Pacific Rim, Latin America is still a top priority.
"Our partnership with the Americas matters a great deal for the United
States,'' said Jacobson. "Secretary Clinton has described how harnessing
the 'power of proximity' between the Untied States and Latin America,
the Caribbean and Canada is among the most strategically significant
tasks facing our foreign policy in the years ahead.''
While Jacobson applauded "remarkable'' changes that have been happening
in the Americas in terms of a growing middleclass and "pragmatic leaders
who are building deeper democracies,'' she said challenges remain.
Economic growth, she said, needs to be sustainable and include
opportunities for broader sectors of society
Among areas of concern, Jacobson said, are:
• Security. "While much of the region is enjoying greater peace and
prosperity, violent crime remains a serious problem throughout Mexico,
Central America, and parts of the Caribbean.''
• An erosion of freedom of expression in some countries. "We've seen
massive lawsuits against newspapers, judicial harassment of media
owners, and continuing violence against journalists by non-state
actors,'' she said.
• An effort to undermine or weaken the Inter-American Human Rights
System. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said recently that his
government should pull out of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights, the Organization of American States' human rights body. The
Washington-based commission has been critical of Venezuela's human
"Dissent is not criminal behavior. Opposition to the government is not
criminal behavior. And free speech is not criminal behavior,'' said
In the past year, Cuba has arrested a record number of dissidents for
protest activities and held them for relatively short periods of time
before releasing them.
After her remarks, Jacobson said she was not speaking specifically about
Cuban dissidents: "Unfortunately we've seen a situation in which free
speech in particular but also other forms of opposition… haven't been
fully respected in a number of countries in the hemisphere but it
certainly includes Cuba.
"The United States has a long track record of supporting peaceful
dissident opposition activity in Cuba and trying to insure overall that
all Cubans have the opportunity to exercise full and universal political
and civil rights, to exercise freedom of expression, freedom of
assembly, which they are unable to do right now."