Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    New book unveils diplomatic exchange between Castro and Obama

    New book unveils diplomatic exchange between Castro and Obama
    10/06/2014 6:30 PM 10/06/2014 6:30 PM

    President Barack Obama tapped Spanish Ambassador Miguel Angel Moratinos
    to deliver a message to Raúl Castro in 2009 and urge him to reciprocate
    a decision to lift the travel restrictions for Cuban Americans,
    according to a recently published book.

    In the book, Back to Cuba Channel: The Hidden History of Negotiations
    Between Washington and Havana, William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh
    document the message sent to Castro via Moratinos: “Tell the Cuban
    authorities that we understand that things can’t change overnight but
    down the road, when we look back, it should be clear that this was the
    moment when changes began.”

    Castro responded with a proposal to open a “secret channel of
    communication,” but the White House replied that any conversation should
    take place through the “existing channels.”

    The authors of the book, which tells the story of secret negotiations
    between Cuba and the United States in the past 55 years, argue that
    although Obama has recognized the futility of a hostile policy, he has
    not been more willing than his predecessors to break the impasse.

    The reasons are perhaps in the “lessons” the authors summarize at the
    end of the book: “The United States has been content to live with
    ‘perpetual antagonism’ toward Cuba because costs have been relatively
    low, and changing the policy entails domestic political risks that
    successive presidents have judged too high.”

    Kornbluh told the Herald that the “lessons” have to do with what has
    happened in the past 55 years and not with the current context.

    “Domestic politics in the United States is a major impediment since the
    end of the Cold War but things are changing in terms of public opinion
    in Miami and Florida,” partly as a result of Obama’s own policy of
    allowing Cuban Americans to freely travel back and forth to Cuba,
    Kornbluh said.

    Another factor he mentioned is that President Obama is a Democrat in his
    second term, so he is not as concerned about the impact of a policy change.

    “Florida is clearly not being considered by Hillary Clinton as a major
    swing state and she has made public her position that the embargo is a
    bad idea for U.S. policy,” he said. “The United States also has regional
    imperatives to change its policy. Look, for example, what just happened
    with this Summit of the Americas, in which the United States is isolated
    and not Cuba.”

    Kornbluh further noted that “major leaders of the Cuban-American
    community like Alfonso Fanjul, are quietly pushing for an opening to
    Cuba and going to Cuba. The hardliners are much more isolated.
    Unfortunately, one of them, who is not even from Miami, Robert Menendez,
    holds a very influential position in the Senate.”

    While lifting the embargo will need a vote in Congress, President Obama
    could take other routes.

    “Obama can – and this is one of the most politically difficult things –
    trade these three Cuban spies who have been imprisoned in the United
    States for more than 15 years for Alan Gross, who has been in prison
    almost five years,” suggested the author, who argues that history gives
    Obama a basis for making changes.

    One of these precedents is described in Back Channel to Cuba. In the
    spring of 1963, John Kennedy traded four Cubans who were imprisoned in
    American jails, including a Cuban who had accidentally shot a
    nine-year-old Venezuelan girl in the back and had been convicted of
    second-degree murder, for a large group of American citizens in Cuban
    jails, including three CIA agents who were caught planting listening
    devices in a Chinese media office that was being constructed in Havana.

    “The intelligence services of Cuba, like the CIA would, want their three
    guys back and they see Alan Gross as the only leverage to get them back.
    That is the most difficult point in the broader picture of trying to
    change the framework of relations,” Kornbluh said.

    Although nationalist rhetoric is still strong in political speeches and
    Cuban media, Kornbluh said that “the Cuban Revolution is no longer
    trying to consolidate itself on the basis of its nationalism and
    anti-imperialism. Cuba just wants to have a mutual respect and peaceful
    coexistence with all nations in the world, particularly the Goliath of
    the North.”

    Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

    Source: New book unveils diplomatic exchange between Castro and Obama |
    The Miami Herald –