Those are the words of former New Mexico Governor and would-be diplomat Bill Richardson in a CNN interview (click the link and scroll down) with an admiring Wolf Blitzer, where Richardson explains his abortive mission to Havana to free jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross.
The governor was “stunned” and “flabbergasted” when he was informed that Gross would not be released to him, there would be no prison visit, and no meeting with President Raul Castro. This, after a “delightful” three-hour lunch with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and after Cuban officials (in Richardson’s telling) had invited him to Havana and given him reason to believe that some bargaining might be possible.
Hence the Governor, ego intact, saw it as a “dramatic snub of me.”
Richardson added to the drama by saying Cuba holds Gross as a “hostage,” and by issuing a theatrical ultimatum – that he would stay in Cuba until permitted to visit Gross – from which he retreated in less than a week. He also publicized his mission before arriving in Cuba and by updating the press on his feelings while there.
Cuba’s foreign ministry issued a statement asserting that Gross’ release “was never on the table during the preparations for his trip, which was made clear to Mr. Richardson as soon as he raised it.” The government also didn’t appreciate the word “hostage” or the ultimatum. (CBS, Prensa Latina)
Richardson advisor Gilbert Gallegos responded by giving AP a more detailed account of the mission. Before the trip, Gallegos said, “It was incredibly clear to Governor Richardson that the Cubans this time were at the point where they were ready to negotiate.” Also: “He offered them eight to ten areas where he, where Governor Richardson, felt the relationship could be improved going forward.” Gallegos told AP that Richardson’s list included drug enforcement, environmental protection, and disaster response.
Sources tell me that the list included the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation, wives’ visits for the five Cuban intelligence agents jailed here, collaboration in oil spill prevention and mitigation, ending the program that grants U.S. immigrant visas to Cuban doctors who leave medical missions in third countries, reduced funding and changes in USAID Cuba programs, extradition of Luis Posada Carriles, an unspecified opening in the telecommunications sector, and more.
Notwithstanding Gallegos’ statement that the ideas were Richardson’s alone, I’m also told that there was ambiguity in the presentation, so it was not clear if these were things that Richardson would recommend, or that the United States would do or would simply discuss once Gross were home.
On September 20 President Obama distanced the Administration from Richardson. He “is acting as a private citizen,” the President said, and “does not represent the U.S. government in his actions there.”
That cleared up any ambiguity about Richardson’s list, and it affirmed the long pattern in U.S.-Cuba relations where the two nations have turned down offers of third-party mediation.
Hence Richardson was capable of negotiating little more than his next meal at the Nacional.
Miffed, the governor engaged in antics that killed any chance of Cuba releasing Gross. Calling Gross a “hostage” was to accuse the Cuban government of a crime. It made his release less likely. It eliminated the possibility of a visit where a humanitarian request is made and simply granted.
Mr. Gross deserves much better than this kind of bumbling.
With this episode done, Foreign Minister Rodriguez visited the New York Times and hinted at talks that might involve Mr. Gross and Cuba’s five intelligence agents jailed here.
U.S. politics being what they are, it’s hard to imagine much payoff there. But it’s an interesting hint nonetheless; both sides set aside the results of the respective legal processes and agree to reciprocal humanitarian actions.
When Russian spies were caught and charged here last year, they were swapped and sent home within days. In this case I’m not holding my breath.