By JUAN TAMAYO — The Miami Herald
One week after President Barack Obama won re-election, Havana offered a “draft agenda” for U.S.-Cuba negotiations that largely repeats its years-old positions but almost directly offers to swap American Alan Gross for five Cuban spies. The statement by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla Lopez to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday received little initial media attention. It was disseminated more broadly Wednesday by his ministry and Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington.
Obama has lifted nearly all limits on Cuban-American travel and remittances to the island, allowed educational visits by other U.S. residents, and restarted – and then stopped again – bilateral talks on migration issues. But his administration has repeatedly said that more significant improvements in bilateral relations can come only after Cuba frees Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Wayne Smith, a former chief U.S. diplomat in Havana and now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, said Rodriguez laid out a list of issues that Havana has long said it wanted to discuss in any bilateral talks. “He simply reiterated their position. I don’t see anything new there,” Smith said. “This is a nonstarter. Same demands as in the past. No offers of major concessions on human rights, etc.,” Jaime Suchlicki, head of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, wrote in an email.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst now lecturing at the University of Denver, called Rodriguez’s speech “a list of maximum demands that shows the bilateral conflict can be handled better but not solved” during Obama’s next term. But he added that the foreign minister’s words evoked Obama’s offer of a “new start” in relations with Cuba shortly after he won the White House in 2008. The U.S. State Department said it had no comment on the Rodriguez proposal.
“Today, here and now, I am again submitting to the U.S. government a draft agenda for a bilateral dialogue aimed at moving towards the normalization of relations,” Rodriguez said. His agenda items included lifting all U.S. sanctions; removing Cuba from the U.S. list of countries with links to international terrorism; and ending the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet-foot, dry-foot policies, which Havana complains unfairly lure Cuban migrants to the United States.