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    New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade

    11 November 2014 Last updated at 21:18 GMT Share this pagePrint

    New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade
    By Thomas Sparrow
    BBC Mundo

    The Times editors think circumstances are ripe for a thaw in US-Cuba
    Cuba clearly is on the minds of the editors of the New York Times.

    In the last month the paper has published five weekend editorials in
    English and in Spanish asking the US administration to re-establish
    diplomatic ties with Cuba.

    In the pieces the Times has asserted that the US trade embargo on Cuba
    is “senseless” and should be dismantled, and it has criticised the
    administration’s “stealth efforts to overthrow the government” in Havana.

    In addition, they have suggested that the White House should remove Cuba
    from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist
    organisations and should propose a prisoner swap that would see the
    release of Alan Gross, the American development contractor who has been
    in a Cuban prison for nearly five years.

    “Washington should recognise that the most it can hope to accomplish is
    to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society,”
    says the most recent editorial, published on Sunday. “That is more
    likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

    Andrew Rosenthal, the New York Times’s editorial page editor, tells the
    BBC that the five editorials have been in line with the newspaper’s
    longstanding position on Cuba and the embargo.

    Nevertheless, it is intriguing that the Times has been running so many
    consecutive pieces on the same country, with clearly defined intervals,
    in two languages and in moments when President Barack Obama is defining
    his agenda for his remaining two years in office.

    The motivation behind the paper’s month-long crusade is that the editors
    believe that “for the first time in more than 50 years”, the situation
    both in Cuba and the US favours such deep political change.

    The newspaper has highlighted how reforms implemented by Cuba mean that
    the island is positioning itself for a “post-embargo era”, while in the
    US there is a growing number of voices that are in favour of deepening
    ties with Havana.

    Moreover, Cuba analysts in the US have argued that President Obama now
    has an important window of opportunity to signal change on his Cuba
    policy, in the run up to the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which will
    be held in April in Panama. With President Raul Castro also in
    attendance, it presents the opportunity of a meeting between the heads
    of state.

    According to Rosenthal, what the Times ultimately wants with its
    editorials is to “influence American policymakers as they continue to
    contemplate Cuba policy” and “encourage reforms on the island that would
    empower ordinary Cubans and expand personal freedoms”.

    This bet coincides with the hiring of Colombian journalist Ernesto
    Londono, a former correspondent for the Washington Post, as a member of
    the newspaper’s editorial board.

    Since Londono joined the team in September, the newspaper has been
    publishing frequent bilingual editorials and has increased its focus on
    Latin America with additional texts on Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia.

    Speaking of the Post, their editors have also weighed in on
    Cuban-American relations but take a pessimistic view of the Times’s calls.

    “While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalisation and lifted travel
    restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are
    loosening their grip,” they write. “Fully lifting the embargo now would
    reward and ratify their intransigence.”

    Mr Rosenthal says that he is pleased the editorials have “invigorated a
    debate here, in Cuba and across Latin America”.

    The articles have certainly been discussed on the island, and on Monday
    the online edition of Cuba’s official newspaper Granma prominently
    featured the most recent editorial under the headline: “New York Times
    editorial recognises US policy of interference towards Cuba.”

    In a column published on state media, Cuba’s former President Fidel
    Castro also cited nearly word for word one of the early editorials,
    which called for the end of the US embargo. He notes that the Times
    “under certain circumstances follows the political line most convenient
    to its country’s interests”.

    He grouses, however, that the Times also criticises his nation’s human
    rights policies, but ends with praise for the editorial.

    “The article is obviously written with great skill, seeking the greatest
    benefit for US policy in a complex situation, in the midst of increasing
    political, economic, financial and commercial problems,” he writes. “To
    these are added the effects of rapid climate change; commercial
    competition; the speed, precision and destructive power of weapons which
    threaten the survival of mankind.”

    The articles have also found an interested audience among the large
    Cuban exile population in Florida, many of whom have criticised the
    Times for supporting a possible prisoner swap.

    Despite this reaction both in Cuba and in the US, some analysts are
    sceptical about the influence that these editorials can actually have.

    “I wouldn’t make too much of the New York Times, but it is yet another
    pillar of support for the White House to take action,” says Ted Piccone,
    who specialises in Latin American affairs at the Brookings Institution,
    a Washington think tank.

    Talking to the BBC, Mr Piccone says the Times “sometimes has an inflated
    sense of power and influence” and he believes the editorials are “not
    very influential in and of themselves”.

    Irrespective of those perceived levels of influence, Times editor
    Rosenthal says he is pleased with the outcome so far, and he signals
    that more editorials are to come.

    “We will continue to look for angles that can inform the debate,” he says.

    Source: BBC News – New York Times goes on a Cuban crusade –