President Jose Mujica of Uruguay Meets with President Obama at the White House
A just issued letter to President Obama does not go as far as it might, but because of the VIP character of the signers it is a significant step in the process of inducing the White House to finally move forward. http://www.supportcubancivilsociety.org/
Its policy recommendations, with those I find especially interesting underlined:
Expand and safeguard travel to Cuba for all Americans
Advisers to the White House on faith-based issues, including ones involving the Catholic Church, said the two may discuss topics such as the U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the pope’s May visit to the Holy Land, the U.S. embargo of Cuba, Syria and the plight of religious minorities around the world.
Secretaries of State John Kerry and Archbishop Pietro Parolin (State Department photo)
Will Pope Francis help President Obama do what he wants to do with Cuba?
Secretary of State Kerry visited the Vatican on January 14th to meet with his counterpart. As reported in the Israeli paper Haaretz, he said:
"We talked also about Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and freedom of, and respect for, human rights," Kerry told reporters after the meeting."I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue," he said.
How's this for a scenario?: Pope Francis gets Alan Gross freed in exchange for the four Castro spies, and, on top of that, orchestrates the restoration of US/Castro diplomatic ties, along with the lifting of the embargo. And it will all make Obama look so righteous and compassionate rather than weak, all because of the glow lent to the whole deal by Pope Francis's halo.Such speculation is not far-fetched. Keep in mind that all of these items are linked together, since Gross is often cited by the Obama administration as the greatest obstacle to "reconciliation."... And don't forget the the Vatican has easy access to Raul through the reprehensible boot-licking Cardinal Ortega, who has already proven his mettle as a deal-maker who will screw the Cuban people and --at the same time -- make all the screwing look like a holy work of mercy.
"I do know that there are those in Congress with hatred so strong toward Cuba that they are willing to let Alan rot in prison. This way of thinking has failed to bring Alan home for four years and is a death sentence for Alan. … I urge all South Florida residents to send messages and meet with Senator Mark Rubio, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lethinen and Congressman Mario Dias-Balart. … We need to try something different or Alan will die in prison."
“we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies”
“We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.”
(The Ambassador Challenges Her Former Boss)How then can we expect to be the prime mover in the complex affairs of the world, if we lack the courage here at home to redefine U.S.-Cuban relations?Change is in the hands of the president — and Cuban Americans. In his eulogy Obama said, “Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done.”
Lift the Cuban EmbargoSome Republicans and Cuban-American lawmakers are criticizing President Obama for shaking President Raúl Castro’s hand at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Their reaction to a gesture of common courtesy should come as no surprise given Washington’s senseless commitment to a failed 50-year policy toward Cuba.--THE EDITORIAL BOARD OF THE NEW YORK TIMES
(Obama's Goal?)The handshake between President Obama and Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service would have made the South African leader smile. It was the latest sign of a gradual thawing in relations between Washington and Havana after a frozen half-century.It hasn't been easy. Obama favored diplomatic recognition and lifting the embargo as far back as when he was a state legislator in Illinois, and he has steadily eased restrictions on travel since taking office.But many on the American right, especially octogenarian Cuban immigrants from the Bay of Pigs generation, have stubbornly resisted normalizing relations with Cuba. Now, though, it seems as if the process is developing a momentum of its own.--Tom Hayden, a founder of the new left and former member of the California State Senate, Los Angeles Times OpEd
Judy Gross to Obama: Castro handshake was fine, now help free my husbandThe wife of a Jewish American contractor jailed in Cuba since 2009 said Thursday that she had no problem with US president Barack Obama shaking hands with Cuban leader Raul Castro in South Africa Tuesday….Gross was called to the State Department on Monday for a periodic update and was again assured of the government’s efforts in freeing Alan.“I got what I call ‘empty rhetoric,’” she said.“We’re asking for the US government to sit down and have negotiations. The most important message is that President Obama needs to get personally involved in the situation. He’s the one person who can get Alan out.”She added that she often thinks about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners released in the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011….“I think of [Shalit] all the time, I wish my government would have that much interest in Alan to get him out.”--Amanda Borschel-Dan, Jewish World Editor, The Times of Israel
Mandela offers an insurmountable example to Latin America and the Caribbean, which are currently moving towards unity and integration for the benefit of their peoples, on the basis of respect for diversity, and convinced that it is through dialogue and cooperation that discrepancies can be resolved and a civilized relationship established between those who think differently....I remember his bond of affection with Fidel Castro, a symbol of the fraternal relations between Africans and Cubans. Fidel has said: “Nelson Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 consecutive years he spent incarcerated without ever renouncing his ideas. He will go down in history because he was capable of cleaning-up his soul from the poison that such an unfair punishment could have planted there; and for his generosity and wisdom, which at the moment of victory allowed him to lead with great talent his selfless and heroic people, knowing that the new South Africa could not be built on hatred and vengeance.”-- President Raul Castro's speech in Johannesburg
The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice; how to uphold freedom and human rights; how to end conflict and sectarian war -- these things do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child born in World War I. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows that is true. South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.-- President Barack Obama's speech in Johannesburg
After so many stops and starts in the ruptured, tortuous U.S.-Cuban relationship, it can be difficult at times to muster any hope for change. And so, even after watching the historic handshake between President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro at the memorial for former President Nelson Mandela today, it would be easy enough to conclude that the handshake was just a handshake.
Maybe it was a momentary stunt by a beleaguered White House eager to shake the media – even for a moment - off of our national conversation about the botched Obamacare rollout. Given this administration’s halting, almost fearful approach to Cuba policy for most of the last five years, it’s hard to imagine that this is the beginning of a real and intentional rapprochement.
But it’s also been a long time coming. President Obama has long believed our policy to be a failure – he said as much during his 2004 run for the Senate. During his first campaign for president he famously expressed (and walked back, somewhat) a willingness to meet with President Raul Castro, and just months into office, Obama called for a "new beginning" with Cuba. Though Obama left most of the policies in place that he inherited, he has notably presided over an historic rebuilding of the Cuban and Cuban American communities' ties - and in the process, winning nearly 50% of Cuban Americans' votes in the 2012 presidential election.
President Castro has similarly expressed a willingness to engage Obama, and specifically, he has suggested he would put "everything" on the table. And in the meantime, Castro has slowly but continuously presided over historic structural changes to the Cuban economy and society - changes he knows are necessary for Cuba, but which also happen to align with any honest assessment of U.S. interests.
Throughout the Obama and Raul Castro administrations, U.S. and Cuban negotiators have made several attempts to return to the table on what appeared to be piecemeal, smaller issues that might have served to build confidence. But each attempt has so far faltered.
Even if this handshake heard round the world was just a stunt, it could give a shot in the arm to the players at the table now. Their presidents took a risk today, and so can they. The media, here at home and abroad, is now primed for a breakout moment. Can they deliver one?