Obama’s Cuba Policy Impasse

and the benefits of resolving the Alan Gross Case

Esteban Morales*

Esteban Morales. Photo: Roberto León de NBC News
Esteban Morales. Photo: Roberto León of NBC News

HAVANA TIMES — Though President Obama never promised he would lift the Cuban embargo, he began his first term with a series of bold moves which raised some hopes on the island. Today, he seems to have stopped trying, having hit what appears to be a convenient dead end.

The US President is unable to grasp the difference between the Allan Gross case and the issue of the Cuban Five. Thus, he is spinning yarns, in a situation which, even if the differences between the two cases were objectively recognized, could be resolved without undermining US national security or prestige. Obama, however, is looking at the Gross-Cuban Five problem in a concave mirror, which turns everything upside-down.

Allan Gross was a US mistake. This is something Gross himself, and even his family, recognizes. This is the reason Obama is being held responsible for his imprisonment in Cuba and being pressured to secure his release. The Cuban Five are also a mistake, made, not by Obama, but by the US justice system.

When Obama took the reins, the [Cuban Five] problem had already been created by others. But the Gross problem is something he brought on himself. Obama is thus faced with two mistakes, one others left him and one he made himself.

But he is unable to see the difference between the two and reaches the false conclusion that freeing the Cuban Five would mean demonstrating the sort of weakness that could put US national security in jeopardy.

What Obama has to realize is that Cuba is the one that cannot appear weak in the eyes of the United States. Doing that would, indeed, put its national security at risk. Cuba does not argue with the United States about others who may have been imprisoned for having operated on US soil on Cuba’s payroll.

But it insists on challenging the case of the Cuban Five. Why? Simply because Cuba knows very well that the Five were not engaged in any activity that endangers US national security. I think Obama knows this as well. And, if he knows this, he is making a serious mistake.

Particularly when it is so clear that the treatment of the Five, and their convictions in particular, are a stain on US justice. Could it be that they are keeping him in the dark about the Five? If not, then Obama is wrong when he states that freeing the Cuban Five would place US national security at risk.

However, since this is an opportunity to secure the release of Allan Gross and unburden himself of a problem which is increasingly damaging US prestige, and his in particular, the situation is being tackled as a political priority.

As I’ve hinted at above, it is a complicated issue, but Obama is making a mistake and, at the same time, blowing the alleged “headache” out of proportion, as it has nothing to do with the case of the Five but, rather, as I’ve already explained, with making a decision with respect to Allan Gross while something can still be done, before it’s too late. Because Gross is a man who is more than sixty years old, who suffers the ailments of old age and has endured, for three years now, the emotional strain of being separated from his loved ones.

No, Mr. President, freeing the Cuban Five and delivering Allan Gross to his family safe and sound will not be a headache for the United States, nor will it represent a threat to its national security. What will be a major headache for you will be making the right decision when it’s already too late. What political argument could you use to explain things to Gross’ family, were this to occur?

That is why Cuba insists on negotiating, on the basis of balanced, humanitarian considerations towards both sides. I am certain Cuba wants the matter to be resolved in good terms, without victory declarations by any side, and without securing any political advantage through such a settlement.

We are talking about people with families, people who suffer, the Five because of the unjust prison sentences they have endured for over 14 years now, Gross because of the U.S. President’s inability to understand he is not sacrificing anything (and is in fact gaining much) by acting with intelligence, common sense and objectivity.

What’s more, you ought not to forget, Mr. President, that you have turned the Allan Gross case into one of your political priorities vis-à-vis Cuba. If this is still the case, then it is something to reflect upon carefully, in order to settle and not complicate the issue.

Neither should you forget that you traced a political strategy that has now hit a dead end following the twists and turns of a problem which, I say in all honesty, would not be hard to overcome.

Both Cuba and the United States have recently taken steps that may signal that the two are finally ready to understand each other. We’ll have to wait and see.
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(*) Read Esteban Morales’ blog (in Spanish).


14 thoughts on “Obama’s Cuba Policy Impasse

  • May 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm
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    Good job excellent writing.Esteban this is Milagros Felipe Garcias Villamil daughter in the US

  • May 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm
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    The embargo is about control of the BROWN and Afrikan descendants of Cuba And control of the Afrikan desc POTUS

  • April 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm
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    Candidates for the Municipal Assemblies are nominated directly by the voters themselves in open, public meetings in each neighbourhood. Central authorities have no role in the process. (Again, your dissident pals, as your own man in Havana pointed out, couldn’t get themselves elected dog-catchers. They are too busy grubbing for money to play any leadership rolls in their own communities. See Wikileaks.)

    Candidates for Provincial and National Assemblies (including Fidel and Raul themselves) are nominated by the local Municipal Assemblies. To keep things honest, voters in provincial and national elections have the option of rejecting every candidate on the ballot and calling for an entirely new slate of candidates — real power that US voters can only dream of.

    Much to your chagrin, in Cuba, it seems the majority really does rule. I guess that’s why conservatives feel these genocidal trade sanctions of yours — really a form of collective punishment — are the only solution to the Cuban Question.

  • April 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm
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    sure like you tolerat and tolerated all the leftist governments all around the world. Or you are acting so dumb, which wpuld be bad, or you think that we are so dumb, which would be the same or you like to provoke whichis not any better either,

  • April 26, 2013 at 2:34 pm
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    All candidates must initially be “approved” by the local nominating council. This council is always heavily weighted with pro-Castro types. No dissident would ever gain approval. To present the Cuban electoral system as anything more than a rubber stamp for the Castro dictatorship it is is disingenuous. The same family has run the country for 54 years. There is no democracy in Cuba.

  • April 25, 2013 at 10:35 pm
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    If the Cuban people wanted money-based “multi-party” elections, they would have them. As it is they have a system I believe is better: “no-party” elections in which everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances, has not only the equal right, but, more importantly, the equal OPPORTUNITY to run for and win even the highest political office in the land.

    The Communist Party is not an electoral machine. In fact, it is forbidden by law to influence the elections in any way. It cannot nominate, finance or even endorse a candidate. And membership in the Party is not a prerequisite for public office at any level.

    If your dissident pals want to get elected, they must first win over their neighbours to get nominated by them at neighbourhood nomination meetings. But, as the former head of the US Interests Section in Havana, Jonathan Ferrar, secretly reported to his superiors in Washington, these “dissidents” are more interested in fighting among themselves for foreign money and influence than playing any kind of leadership role in their respective communities.

  • April 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm
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    You have a point. If Cuba were to meet the requirements of Helms-Burton and yet by a majority vote of the people still decide to remain a socialist state, the US might get so upset we would pass a law to set up an embargo against Cuba. Oh wait…..

  • April 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm
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    DC, for the sake of discussion, let’s say you are right. Let’s say that Cuba meets all the requirements of Helms-Burton, including an unimpeachable and multiparty election in which Cubans choose to remain a socialist republic. As you pessimistically suggest, the US then fails to lift the embargo. What is the downside for Cuba? They still have their socialist “character” and now they have an independent press and a new democracy to boot. Certainly they are no worse off and arguably far better off because of these political reforms and new freedoms. What are you and other castristas really afraid of?

  • April 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm
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    I agree on that. The Us never would tolerate any socialist government in their vecinity.

  • April 25, 2013 at 1:19 pm
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    A very interesting point of view

  • April 25, 2013 at 11:24 am
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    Allan Gross is just the latest false pretext for the genocidal US embargo. Releasing Gross will not suddenly make the US regime to the legal and moral thing with regard to these criminal sanctions. Apparently, only the complete dismantling of socialism in Cuba will suffice (see Section 206 of the Helms-Burton Act, the legislative underpinning of the embargo). It won’t matter what kind of elections they hold, not even the US-style money-based kind will do if the Cuban insist on keeping a system that continues to maintain the best health care and education systems in the region.

    The embargo has nothing to do with “human rights” or “relations” with the US. It is pure power politics — the politics of empire.

  • April 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm
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    Esteban, you are an intelligent man and I enjoy your columns, but you do seem to labour under an astonishing set of false assumptions.

    Obama is not at any sort of impasse over US-Cuba relations. As far as US foreign policy is concerned, Cuba is way, way down the list of priorities. Even in the limited domestic political significance of Cuba (ie. Florida’s electoral college votes), the upside of making any dramatic change is small, while the down-side is considerable. Therefore letting it sit is the preferred policy.

    In fact, Obama did act to soften the embargo against Cuba, to ease restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba, and increase remittances. Cuba has responded with a few modest economic reforms, a slight opening in travel restrictions for Cubans, and a harsh crackdown on dissidents and human right activists. Given that the major condition for removing the US embargo is an improvement in human rights, the Cuban response so far hardly justifies further action on the US side.

    The other surprising thing is your continued to assumption that the US would allow intelligence agents (…and you do know, there were several more than five La Red Avispa who got away, right? ) of a foreign and overtly hostile country operate with impunity in the US. The Cuban Five were convicted in a fair trail. While you might not think was fair, the US government certainly does. Furthermore, the charges involved more sinister actions than the allegedly benign explanations your government admits to.

    The Cuban government would not accept CIA agents operating in Cuba, so why should the US government accept Cuban agents operating in the US?

    If you want to draw a parallel to Alan Gross, go for it. How does providing banned telecommunications equipment, which was never used to harm anybody, compare with providing information about the Brothers to the Rescue flight which resulted in the deaths of the Cuban-American pilots when the Cuban airforce shot down the unarmed planes?

    If Alan Gross was breaking Cuban law, then surely the Cuban Five were breaking US laws. To argue otherwise is not worthy of a man of your intelligence.

  • April 24, 2013 at 2:43 pm
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    Senor Morales continues to view the US/Cuba impasse as an issue of equal importance to both sides. His continued insistence that somehow President Obama is under any sort of pressure whatsoever to move forward on improving relations with Cuba is simply boneheaded and arrogant. Cuba who? Keep in mind what foreign policy issues this President deals with on a daily basis. Wars in Syria and Afghanistan, nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea, and rising terrorist threats in central Africa. On the home front, an impending showdown on the budget and immigration and a gun control debate on life support. There is no measurable pressure on the White House to do anything about Cuba coming from anybody. Our Latin American partners are basking in rising GNPs from doing a brisk business with US consumers. Trade with Latin America rose 4.2% in 2012. Our detractors (ALBA countries) in Latin America will complain no matter what the US does. Our EU and Asian allies have their own problems and are not bothering to take on the “poor lil’ Cuba” cause beyond the once a year UN vote to lift the embargo. So where is this pressure Mr. Morales is talking about? Moreover, the longer Obama waits to act, the weaker internally Cuba becomes politically and the better Obama’s negotiating position is to press for more democratic reforms. It is tragic that Mr. Gross continues to waste away in a Cuban gulag. Should his health decline further, or the worst of all, should he die while being held captive, it would be disasterous for the Castros not Obama. To most Americans, distributing equipment to improve access to the internet should not be a crime. No one will blame Obama for Gross death. The blame will fall on the Castros who imprisoned him. There is no doubt that Senor Morales is among the most erudite intellectuals in Cuba but his failure to understand how low a priority Cuba registers on Obama’s foreign policy “To-Do List” reflects how much more he has yet to learn about the US to speak intelligently about this issue.

  • April 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm
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    just as cuban american relations were improving there was the setback caused by the brothers to the rescue plane downing. then it was the allan gross case. there seems to always be some issue that impedes are a more rapid normalization of relations.

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