Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Two Recent Signs of Change in Washington’s Cuba Policies

    Two Recent Signs of Change in Washington’s Cuba Policies
    November 22, 2013
    Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)

    HAVANA TIMES — Within a short 10-day period, US President Barack Obama
    and Secretary of State John Kerry have addressed Washington’s Cuba
    policy and have insisted on the need to update and creatively re-shape a
    policy implemented over fifty years ago, a policy which must be placed
    in step with the times.

    Politicians tend to publicly address only the tip of the iceberg and
    often conceal the more important maneuvers. I can’t be certain that
    we’ll be seeing some unprecedented decisions on the matter immediately,
    but the moderation of recent pronouncements and the White House’s stance
    towards the timid but real changes taking place in Cuba today (such as
    the proliferation of self-employment and the laxer travel legislation)
    are indeed curious.

    In the five short years since Obama entered office, more than 100
    thousand Cubans have been granted visas to travel to the United States
    to reunite with their families and as part of cultural, educational or
    religious exchanges. This year, the State Department announced that it
    would grant five-year travel visas to Cubans with relatives in the
    United States, as part of the “normalization” of the way in which Cuban
    applicants are treated by US migratory authorities.

    Closer Ties

    In addition, Obama and Kerry’s statements reaffirm the decisions
    regarding the lifting of restrictions on travel and the sending of
    remittances to the island (made effective in 2009), as well as increased
    travel to Cuba by US citizens and so-called “people-to-people” contacts
    (operative since 2011).

    This year, the two countries resumed migratory talks and conversations
    surrounding the re-establishment of direct mail services between Cuba
    and the United States. It is also evident that restrictions on the
    movement of US and Cuban diplomats outside their respective missions
    have been relaxed.

    In the short span of time between Obama’s statements at a fund-raiser
    and Kerry’s speech at the OAS, an official Cuban delegation (headed by
    two diplomats) visited the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa and
    participated in a meeting aimed at reaching a regional cooperation
    agreement on oil spills. The gathering involved officials from the
    pertinent US agencies.

    The meeting between the Cubans and US officials who attended the
    gathering was held in an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation.
    According to sources who participated in the talks, the agreement is now
    ready to be signed by the parties. Curiously enough, the Treasury
    Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) raised no
    objections about hotel bills and stipends of Cuban invitees, who
    participated in a forum sponsored by oil companies.

    No Comments about Alan Gross

    In their respective speeches (whose Cuba-related fragments are
    reproduced below), neither Obama nor Kerry made any mention of
    contractor Alan Gross, convicted to 15 years in prison in Cuba. As we
    know, Gross is one of the chief hurdles standing in the way of improved
    bilateral relations.

    During his visit to Havana in February, Senator Patrick Leahy
    recommended that the Gross case be negotiated “discretely”, a suggestion
    which has apparently not fallen upon deaf ears in Washington.

    At the beginning of July, the Cuban government authorized an independent
    medical team to visit Gross in Havana, an incident which was not
    reported on by the US press. Gross’ own family has maintained a low
    profile in connection with the case, even after nearly four years since
    his arrest, which took place on December 3, 2009.

    These are some of the signs that suggest relations between Washington
    and Havana may be evolving. We should not jump to any conclusions. The
    embargo is still in place and seems to be set in stone for the time
    being. What we can say is that the map of political and social relations
    between the two countries is beginning to be drawn up with a different
    rhetoric.

    Source: “Two Recent Signs of Change in Washington’s Cuba Policies –
    Havana Times.org” – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=100234