Cuba Makes Overture to Obama
Cuban President Raul Castro isn’t waiting for Barack Obama to take office on January 20th to make the first overture that could lead to defrosting US-Cuba relations.
During his first trip abroad since taking office in February, Castro told the press in Brazil that he was willing to free dozens of prisoners that Washington calls “dissidents” in return for the release of the Cuban Five, who have spent more than 10 years in US prisons.
In saying “Let’s do gesture for gesture,” the Cuban leader makes an attractive offer that would please his compatriots on both sides of the Florida Straights, reported the BBC.
“We'll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts," said Mr. Castro.
Who Are the Prisoners?
Washington’s “dissidents” have been the cornerstone of the Bush administration policy to try and build an internal opposition to the governments of Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul. They routinely received funds from Miami based groups and the US Interests Section in Havana and many were arrested during a crackdown on March 18, 2003.
Working for the enemy is not taken lightly in Cuba. The following month they were tried and received stiff sentences of up to 27 years in prison. Some received early release for health reasons.
A dozen or so wives of the prisoners dress in white and parade down Fifth Avenue in Havana’s Miramar district on most Sundays demanding their husband’s release.
Meanwhile, in the US, five Cubans continue in prison after more than 10 years for the “crime” of uncovering terrorist plots against the island being planned in Miami under the complacent eye of US authorities.
Shortly before their arrest, Cuba had made available to the White House the sensitive information gathered by the Cuban Five. However, the FBI proceeded to arrest the informants instead of the terrorists.
Detained in 1998 and convicted in a politically charged Miami courtroom in 2001 for conspiracy and failing to register as foreign agents, the Cuban Five were sentenced to harsh terms ranging from 15 years to double life imprisonment.
To make their imprisonment even crueler, the Cubans faced long periods of solitary confinement and their family visits, supposedly guaranteed by US law, have been hampered at best and denied at worst.
Back home the Cuban Five are considered heroes and are never far from most peoples’ thoughts.
The Cuban people, like many Latin Americans, are very family oriented and the divisions created over the last half-century for political and economic reasons have been heartfelt.
If the new US administration decides to accept President Castro’s offer it would make a lot of people happy on both sides of the Florida Straits, providing a significant break in what appeared to be a never-ending diplomatic stalemate.