Monday, December 22, 2008

"Gesture for gesture"

After the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, visited Cuba in February, he told reporters about a conversation he had with Raul Castro. Castro, at one point, brought up the issue of five Cubans – the “Cuban Five,” or los cinco heroes, as they are called in Cuba – who were arrested in 1998, convicted on espionage and other charges, and are in federal jails today. According to Cardinal Bertone, they discussed the issue “with the eventual possibility of an exchange.” I don’t know of any clarification of this conversation that came from the Cuban side to explain who might be exchanged for the five.

A clarification came last week in Brazil in a press conference Raul Castro held with the Brazilian president. There, Castro was asked about the U.S. embargo, relations with the United States, and Cuban prisoners. The transcript (in Spanish) is in Granma; an English-language news story in Granma contains some quotes from the press conference; AP coverage here.

In the press conference, Raul says that a former president (of the United States, I assume) urged him in a letter to make gestures to improve relations with the future Obama Administration. “I told him that the time of gestures is over in Cuba, that they have to be bilateral gestures, no more unilateral gestures.”

He went on to say that under “absolute equality of conditions,” Cuba is willing to talk with the Obama Administration.

And in response to a question about dissidents in prison: “We’re going to do gesture for gesture; those prisoners you speak about, they want them released; let them tell us tomorrow, we’ll send them there with their families and everything; let them return our five heroes to us, that is a gesture by both sides, and of the supposed political prisoners in Cuba.” (My translations.)

The Bush Administration rejected the idea, as AP notes.

It’s hard to tell precisely what signal Raul was trying to send here, or even if he planned to send a signal had reporters not asked about human rights issues. The point about unilateral gestures and concessions is clear enough, and if you want to be optimistic you can take it as a positive signal that he is willing to engage in reciprocal concessions. On the other hand, if “we’ll send them there” means that dissidents would be released on condition that they and their families leave their country, then in this case he is proposing an idea with which no U.S. Administration would be likely to agree.

Earlier comments on the issue here.


Anonymous said...

Those dissidents jailed since 2003,coinciding with the US invasion of Iraq, did not arrive in Cuba from the USA with a mission to spy, nor did they infiltrate any govt. ministry or organizatio nor were they working for the CIA. In fact, everything they did was public. They were the promoters of the Varela Project, all legal, based on the Cuban constitution. Castro then forced a refferendum in order to change the constitution to prevent anything like the Varela Project from succeeding. It was one of the most repressive actions taken by Castro in the last decades. They were sentenced to long prison terms after secret trials, with no real defense. No comparison with "los cinco". If they want an exchange, they could begin by suggesting an exchange with those American fugitives in Cuba. They should release those arrested in 2003, as an amnesty, and not on condition they leave their country. I hope no one in the US govt., Congress, State Dept. etc accept that.

leftside said...

Anon, you forgot to mention that those arrested in 2003 were all caught working with foreign government (mostly US) funded organizations. Most worked directly with the US Interests Section and received payments in dollars, in addition to the various services that a mercenary coudl expect - free internet service, visa help, etc. This was at a time when the US declared a right to topple "terrorist regimes" - which Cuba is absurdly labled. The US has an official regime change policy for Cuba, a well-funded "Plan for Transformation" with a secret annex and sees those willing to work with us as central to the (pipe) dreams of overthrow. In response to laws the US Congress passed allowing the funding of dissent, Cuba passed a law making cooperation in that regard illegal. The law is not much different from those in the US that preclude working with an agent of Cuba, Iran or Hamas. Yes, the Cuban law is tough. But if the US was not paying for regime change in Cuba, they would not have the need for such a law. I am waiting for someone to show me one of these 75 "independent" dissidents who was not working with foreign entities. Just one.

Anonymous said...

'where will you go for a vacation when Castro is overthrown? Haiti? North Korea or Venezuela? Bolivia?