Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuban dissidents, divided on U.S. outreach, call for more consultation

    Cuban dissidents, divided on U.S. outreach, call for more consultation
    By Karen DeYoung February 3

    Visiting Cuban dissidents told Congress on Tuesday that while they might
    disagree on the wisdom of President Obama’s new policy toward Cuba, they
    were united in believing that further U.S. engagement with Havana should
    be based on consultation with political activists on the island.

    “There is now a unique opportunity to assist the people of Cuba, and it
    must not be wasted,” independent journalist Miriam Leiva said at a
    subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White movement, said that even their
    disagreements were a step forward for the dissidents. “For us, they
    represent a complete exercise of politics,” she said. The group
    represents relatives of political prisoners in Cuba.

    “The Cuban government is not a sovereign government; it has not been
    elected,” Soler said. “It has rejected the opinions of the Cuban people.
    They are the ones who own Cuba’s sovereignty; it’s very important to
    hear them.”

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who chaired the hearing, opposes Obama’s
    decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and work toward
    “normalizing” the relationship. Earlier in the hearing, he pressed State
    Department officials to explain why, in addition to Cuban activists,
    they were not consulted during bilateral negotiations leading to Obama’s
    Dec. 17 announcement.

    The secret negotiations, over 18 months, were conducted for the United
    States by two senior officials from the White House National Security

    “Nobody in my bureau was involved,” said Assistant Secretary of State
    Roberta Jacobson, who said she was not informed until just before the

    But Jacobson said that preparations for the changes Obama announced in
    U.S. trade and travel policy toward Cuba were the product of far earlier
    work that was done by State and other government departments.

    The work began shortly after Obama took office in early 2009, when he
    indicated he favored an end to the half-century of official estrangement
    with Cuba, according to several U.S. officials who were not authorized
    to discuss the matter publicly. But plans to move in that direction were
    suspended when Alan Gross, working on a U.S. government contract, was
    arrested in Cuba late that year and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment
    for distributing Internet equipment on the island.

    Gross’s December release, on humanitarian grounds, was agreed on during
    the secret NSC negotiations.

    During the hearing, Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed
    extreme doubt about Obama’s new policy, arguing that the government of
    Cuban President Raúl Castro had made no real concessions to win the
    restoration of relations and new trade possibilities.

    But most other lawmakers, while saying they wanted ongoing human rights
    pressure on Havana, indicated they favored the initiative and encouraged
    Jacobson and Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, whose State
    Department brief includes human rights and democracy building, to
    directly counter the critics.

    Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) asked Malinowski whether the new policy was “a
    gift” to the Cuban government.

    “There’s nothing in the policy that we undertook that wasn’t something
    done in our national interest,” Malinowski said. “Some of it are things
    the Cuban government wouldn’t have asked for. .?.?. Many regimes do not
    consider a U.S. Embassy a gift. We’re pretty active and we’re pretty

    Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security
    correspondent for the Washington Post.

    Source: Cuban dissidents, divided on U.S. outreach, call for more
    consultation – The Washington Post –