US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama
Wilfredo Cancio Isla (Café Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Within a short 10-day period, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have addressed Washington’s Cuba policy and have insisted on the need to update and creatively re-shape a policy implemented over fifty years ago, a policy which must be placed in step with the times.
Politicians tend to publicly address only the tip of the iceberg and often conceal the more important maneuvers. I can’t be certain that we’ll be seeing some unprecedented decisions on the matter immediately, but the moderation of recent pronouncements and the White House’s stance towards the timid but real changes taking place in Cuba today (such as the proliferation of self-employment and the laxer travel legislation) are indeed curious.
In the five short years since Obama entered office, more than 100 thousand Cubans have been granted visas to travel to the United States to reunite with their families and as part of cultural, educational or religious exchanges. This year, the State Department announced that it would grant five-year travel visas to Cubans with relatives in the United States, as part of the “normalization” of the way in which Cuban applicants are treated by US migratory authorities.
In addition, Obama and Kerry’s statements reaffirm the decisions regarding the lifting of restrictions on travel and the sending of remittances to the island (made effective in 2009), as well as increased travel to Cuba by US citizens and so-called “people-to-people” contacts (operative since 2011).
This year, the two countries resumed migratory talks and conversations surrounding the re-establishment of direct mail services between Cuba and the United States. It is also evident that restrictions on the movement of US and Cuban diplomats outside their respective missions have been relaxed.
In the short span of time between Obama’s statements at a fund-raiser and Kerry’s speech at the OAS, an official Cuban delegation (headed by two diplomats) visited the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa and participated in a meeting aimed at reaching a regional cooperation agreement on oil spills. The gathering involved officials from the pertinent US agencies.
The meeting between the Cubans and US officials who attended the gathering was held in an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation. According to sources who participated in the talks, the agreement is now ready to be signed by the parties. Curiously enough, the Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) raised no objections about hotel bills and stipends of Cuban invitees, who participated in a forum sponsored by oil companies.
No Comments about Alan Gross
In their respective speeches (whose Cuba-related fragments are reproduced below), neither Obama nor Kerry made any mention of contractor Alan Gross, convicted to 15 years in prison in Cuba. As we know, Gross is one of the chief hurdles standing in the way of improved bilateral relations.
During his visit to Havana in February, Senator Patrick Leahy recommended that the Gross case be negotiated “discretely”, a suggestion which has apparently not fallen upon deaf ears in Washington.
At the beginning of July, the Cuban government authorized an independent medical team to visit Gross in Havana, an incident which was not reported on by the US press. Gross’ own family has maintained a low profile in connection with the case, even after nearly four years since his arrest, which took place on December 3, 2009.
These are some of the signs that suggest relations between Washington and Havana may be evolving. We should not jump to any conclusions. The embargo is still in place and seems to be set in stone for the time being. What we can say is that the map of political and social relations between the two countries is beginning to be drawn up with a different rhetoric.