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12/20/13 - Aljazeera.com - Can a handshake warm US-Cuba ties? 


Molly McCluskey

Hello. Goodbye. Thank you. It's a deal. A handshake can mean many things,
but when President Barack Obama greeted Cuban President Raul Castro at the
memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the handshake
reverberated around the world, leading critics and optimists alike to
wonder if a new age of US-Cuba relations had arrived.

The idea wasn't entirely unfounded. Speaking at a fundraiser for the
Cuban-American National Foundation in November, Obama said the current US
policy toward Cuba "doesn't make sense".

"It's a losing battle trying to keep up this policy that hasn't produced
anything tangible in a half a century. It's just a matter of time before
the policy changes," said Colonel Morris Davis, a Howard Law professor and
Air Force veteran who served as the chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay
detention center in Cuba from 2005-2007. "I viewed the handshake in a
positive light that maybe it's the beginning of the thaw that has been
delayed for far too long."

But, he added, "I'm an optimist".

Jordan Valdez, a senior advisor within the Obama administration, is a
career foreign policy analyst. Speaking unofficially from her perspective
as a first-generation Cuban-American, Valdez said she's not reading too
much into the greeting between Obama and Castro. "To me, that handshake
signaled nothing more than a gesture of respect from one person to
another."

Trade embargo

The United States broke diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 after a number of
confrontations with then-President Fidel Castro, including a US-led attempt
to overthrow the Cuban government, and a Cuban initiative to nationalise
foreign-owned properties and [2]companies.

As a result, the United States has pursued an aggressive economic and
political embargo against the nation since 1962. Starting on 1982, the
United States has included it on a list of "state sponsors of terrorism," a
distinction Cuba shares with only three other countries: Syria, Sudan, and
[3]Iran.  The Helms-Burton Act in 1996 strengthened the embargo.   In 1999,
then-President Bill Clinton prohibited foreign subsidiaries of US companies
to trade with Cuba, and in 2000, limited exceptions were made for
humanitarian items. The United Nations has called for an end to the US
embargo against Cuba for twenty-two consecutive [4]years.

Valdez said she has seen some improvement in relations between the two
countries in the ease in which she's now able to visit her relatives in
Cuba.

"Previously, you had to surrender your spouse's passport if you were a
Cuban wanting to travel. The idea was that you wouldn't defect without your
husband or your wife. Elderly people were allowed to travel, because the
assumption was that their entire life was on the island, and they would
come back."

But relaxed travel restrictions were threatened in late November when New
York State- based M&T Bank halted operations of Cuban missions in the US,
effectively ceasing the issuance of visas; and halting travel between the
US and Cuba, something neither country wanted.  Cuba blamed the move on US
sanctions.

Some banks are leery about dealing with Cuba's US accounts given the
country's status as "state sponsors of terrorism", and the embargo. Other
banks face hefty fines from the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets
Control (OFAC) for missteps in regulations involving transactions with
Cuba.

Banking services were reinstated until February 17, but the Cuban Special
Interests Section in Washington, DC, which acts as the country's embassy in
the US (under Swiss diplomatic protection) is now scrambling to locate
another bank to handle their consular deposits, a difficult task under
the current economic embargo. A State Department official has said the
Obama administration is actively working to resolve the issue.

The banking issue is just one example of the difficulty in deciphering with
any certainty the mixed messages the United States has presented on the
global stage in regard to its attitude toward Cuba.

Human rights

In no area are the lines blurred more than in the case of Cuba's alleged
human rights violations, which President Obama has repeatedly denounced.
Alan Gross, a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
worker arrested in 2009, has spent the past four years in a Cuban prison.
On December 3, the anniversary of his detainment, Gross pleaded with
President Obama not to abandon him. Members of the US Senate called for an
"immediate, unconditional release."

There is no better case than the Cuban Five to show the hypocritical nature
of the United State's so called war against terrorism

-Alicia Jrapko, US coordinator for the International Committee for the
Freedom of the Cuban 5

In response, the Director General for the United States in the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, said in a statement: "The
Cuban government reiterates its readiness to immediately establish a
dialogue with the United States government to find a solution to the case
of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis, and which addresses the humanitarian
concerns of Cuba relating to the case of the four Cuban antiterrorist
fighters in prison in the United States."

The four, part of a group known colloquially as the Cuban 5, are Cuban
intelligence officers arrested in Miami in 1998 for alleged acts of
espionage against the US government.

"There is no better case than the Cuban Five to show the hypocritical
nature of the United States' so called war against terrorism," said Alicia
Jrapko, the US coordinator for the International Committee for the Freedom
of the Cuban 5. "These were five young men who came to the US unarmed to
prevent terrorist attacks organised in Southern Florida against their
people. "

Indeed, it's difficult to hold the moral high ground against imprisoning
individuals without cause in Cuba when the United States is itself guilty
of the act. The Guantanamo Bay detention center, located on the US
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, is a controversial holding ground for
prisoners in the US as part of the so-called "war on terror".

Davis said, "We protest the circumstances in which Gross is being held in
Cuba, but on the other end of the aisle, we've got 160 people we've been
keeping there (in Guantanamo Bay) for 12 years. 80 of the people being held
have been cleared of all charges, but haven't been released."

"Human rights is one of those things we throw up when it's convenient, and
something that we ignore when it's to our advantage to look away," Davis
said.

For Valdez, the issue of human rights hits closer to home. She recalls a
time when, visiting cousins, she was harassed by police who demanded her
papers, and says such occurrences happen frequently. "Is there some level
of hypocrisy around the US's stance on Cuba's human rights? There always
is. For me, when I think about it, the human rights abuses that are
happening in Cuba are happening to members of my family. I don't have
family in Guantanamo."

Davis, however, thinks relations can be normalised with Cuba. "At various
points in our history, countries that we've vehemently hated that are now
our allies. Or countries that were our friends that now became our
enemies," Davis said. "Our attention span tends to be fickle at times."

For Jrapko, the steps to cordial relations between the US and Cuba are
clear. "...the lifting of the travel ban to Cuba, the lifting of the
blockade, the removal of Cuba from the State Department list of countries
that sponsor terrorism, a closing of Guantanamo and returning it to Cuba
and the freedom of the 'Cuban 5.'"

Valdez, more measured in her approach, envisions a time when she'll be able
to easily exchange cards, gifts, phone calls and even emails or Facebook
messages with relatives. But, she is cautious that any progress made under
the current US administration could be undermined by the next, perhaps more
fickle, one. It's a concern she can't shake easily.



Original Source / Fuente Original:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/can-handshake-warm-us-cuba-ties-20131220104312767573.html


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