Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    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
    actually released.

    “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
    follow through.

    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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    Cuba’s political prisoners freed | –