HAVANA TIMES – Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, the son of President Raul Castro, was officially the representative of Cuba in the secret negotiation process with the United States that ended with the agreement to open a new stage of bilateral relations, on December 17, 2014, Cardinal Jaime Ortega has just revealed.
The date chosen had nothing to do with the celebration of St. Lazarus Day, as many thought, or other political reasons, but was because it was the birthday of Pope Francis, who had played a key role in promoting negotiations between the Castro and Obama administrations.
The revelations of these details were just published for the first time by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, former archbishop of Havana, in an article appearing in the Catholic Church journal Espacio Laical. The basis of the text is a conference that Ortega dictated last September in New York at an event sponsored by the Concordia organization.
In a detailed account of the steps that led to the rapprochement between Raul Castro and Barack Obama, with the mediation of the Catholic Church, Ortega mentions that Alejandro Castro led the secret talks for Cuba with the United States that were held in 2013 and 2014, and his counterpart was Ricardo Zúñiga, White House adviser for Latin America and principal director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
“Not only did I have the extraordinary possibility of being a bearer of a letter from the Pope to each of the presidents, but also of knowing and transmitting to each of them the oral message that the other sent,” wrote the Cardinal, who retired last year. “For me this was one of the great moments of my priestly life; Because I was able to see that dialogue and rapprochement are always possible, and that is what my Christian faith always inspired in my ministry as Pastor.”
Being archbishop of Havana. The Cardinal served as emissary of the Pope to finally raise the “anchor of the past” between the two countries.
Ortega announced that he is preparing a book that describes in detail the negotiation process that involved him as a protagonist.
Confirmation of the role played by Alejandro Castro Espin, 51, in the process that started the thaw between Havana and Washington, positions the Colonel for a leading role in future government tasks.
Castro Espin participated in the first meeting held by Castro and Obama during the Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015, serving as the head of Cuba’s National Commission for Security and Defense, although at that time his role in secret bilateral negotiations –which lasted 18 months – was unknown.
So as not to arouse suspicion
Cardinal Ortega also reveals how he had to mask a visit to the White House to meet with Obama, on August 17, 2014, with an oral message from Raul Castro. In coordination with Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, Ortega’s assistance was planned for a forum at the Catholic University of Georgetown to avoid arousing suspicion. The White House did not want any publicity about Ortega’s meeting with Obama.
As key figures to begin negotiations between the two sides, Ortega mentions Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, then pro tempore president of the Senate, and analyst and political scientist Julia Sweig, who was the bearer of a message from Leahy with his suggestion that Pope Francisco “enter the scene” for a probable rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.
One year ago, when Obama visited Cuba, one of his first encounters after his arrival in the country was with Cardinal Ortega, who received him in the Havana Cathedral.
To read the full text of Cardinal Ortega’s article in Spanish, click here