Obama’s deal with Cuba just got much worse for those who want Cuba’s political prisoners freed
Obama’s deal with Cuba just got much worse for those who want Cuba’s
political prisoners freed
Jan. 8, 2015 2:49pm Pete Kasperowicz
A State Department spokeswoman claimed Thursday that Cuba’s promise to
release 53 political prisoners was not part of the broad agreement
reached in December about how to rebuild relations between the U.S. and
Cuba, and instead was a unilateral commitment Cuba made on its own.
If true, State’s announcement would seem to indicate that the Obama
administration has very little leverage to ensure the 53 prisoners are
“This was not part of the negotiation, I think there’s some confusion
about that,” said State spokeswoman Jen Psaki when asked again about how
many of the 53 prisoners have been released. “This was a commitment that
the Cuban government made to release these individuals.”
Psaki said many have been “grouping together all of this,” referring to
President Barack Obama’s announcement about the exchange of spies, the
return of Alan Gross to the United States, and upcoming efforts to
improve bilateral relations.
Psaki’s statement seemed to go directly against Obama’s statement from
December — Obama himself mentioned the release of the prisoners in his
December 17 speech announcing the deal, and indicated that these
prisoners were part of the package.
“In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our
intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial
number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban
government by my team,” Obama said.
Regardless of whether the administration is changing its story on the
agreement, Psaki’s newest statement appears to indicate that the U.S.
has little leverage over whether those prisoners will actually get released.
For example, if the prisoner release were part of the agreement, the
Obama administration could presumably have the ability to withhold some
of its own efforts to rebuild bilateral relations until all those
prisoners are set free. But if Cuba’s pledge truly is a unilateral
commitment, the U.S. would seem to be in a weaker position to make Cuba
Over the last few weeks, it appears that the Obama administration in
fact has very little leverage over the release of these prisoners. State
Department and White House officials have repeatedly refused to say how
many of the 53 have been set free, but have indicated that some are
still in jail.
That has led to increasing frustration in Congress, where many members
believe Obama struck an unenforceable deal with Cuba.
“The fact that the White House is not willing to release the names of
the 53 Cuban political prisoners is a testament to the lack of
transparency that has transpired from the beginning of these secret
talks with a communist dictatorship,” said Eddy Acevedo, senior foreign
policy adviser for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). “However, the
reality is that even if some of these political prisoners are released,
thousands more will be detained this year because the tyrannical regime
feels emboldened to continue their oppressive ways, since they see no
consequences coming from the White House for violently attacking and
imprisoning the people of Cuba.”
Yleem Poblete, co-founder of Poblete Analysis and former chief of staff
for the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday’s news is “another
example of the administration’s failed negotiating strategy of awarding
concessions without first ensuring US demands and conditions have been met.”
She also said it means the U.S. should stop all further cooperation with
Cuba, especially in light of the further arrests of dissidents in Cuba
since the White House announcement.
On Thursday, Psaki offered that Cuba has completed at least two rounds
of releasing some of the prisoners, but didn’t say how many have been
released as of today.
Reporters have asked Psaki for details about the prisoners every day
this week, and have said the public has no way of knowing whether
they’ve been released without more information or their names. But Psaki
has said the government does not want to provide any details for fear
that doing so could somehow hinder their release — she refused to say
explicitly what might happen if more details were provided.
But at the same time, Psaki rejected one reporter’s assertion that the
details of Cuba’s commitment were “mysterious.”
“I don’t think it’s a mysterious 53,” she said.
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