OP/ED: End America’s Perverse Embargo Against Cuba 5

Jesse Jackson meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba on June 25, 1984.

Jesse Jackson meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Cuba on June 25, 1984.

By Jesse Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times

jjackson@rainbowpush.org

When President Barack Obama called on the world to contribute to fighting Ebola in West Africa, the response was, as the Wall Street Journal reported, “underwhelming.” One nation stood up immediately: Cuba dispatched 165 medical personnel to Sierra Leone, the largest single contribution to that country. “Against Ebola, we can work with anyone,” said Jorge Delgado Bustillo, head of the Cuban Sierra Leone Medical Brigade “The United States? Yes, we can.”

Cuba has sent tens of thousands of health workers to aid foreign nations in distress, including 1,500 to Haiti after its 2010 earthquake. The Cubans cooperate with the U.S. on migration issues and in patrolling the seas. The Cubans also aid the U.S. in the wars on drugs and terror, now hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and guerrilla leaders there that even American officials acknowledge are helpful.

Cubans are freer to travel to the U.S. than Americans are to travel to Cuba. The Cubans are expanding private ownership and encouraging foreign investment, with the Brazilians, Europeans, Chinese and Russians all grabbing opportunities. While the Cubans are far from a democracy and continue to curb dissent and limit freedom of assembly, their leaders are slowly opening the country up, while playing a responsible role across the developing world.

And yet America continues to enforce an embargo that began in 1961. The State Department still includes Cuba on its list of terrorist nations.

This perverse policy has helped to isolate the U.S. in its own hemisphere. The U.S. government’s unrelenting opposition to Cuba’s presence at hemispheric meetings has offended virtually all of our neighbors, while isolating the U.S. Now the U.S. has been put on notice: When Latin American governments open the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City next spring, Cuba will be in attendance whether Obama comes or not.

The failed embargo against Cuba should have been lifted decades ago. The embargo has been sustained largely for two reasons. First, Castro embarrassed the CIA and the cold warriors, frustrating their attempts to invade the island, destabilize the regime and assassinate him. Second, domestic politics, particularly the passion of Cuban American voters in the swing state Florida, sustained the policy long past its expiration date. But the Cold War is long over, and the new generation of Cuban Americans wants relations opened up.

The New York Times recently called on President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba. Only Congress can fully end the embargo, but the president can expand the right to travel to and invest in the island, and can restore normal diplomatic ties. He might sensibly commute the sentences of the three of the five Cuban men who remain in jail after 16 years, and exchange them for Alan Gross, now imprisoned in Cuba for five years as an American spy.

This could help launch a new era of engagement with our own hemisphere. The U.S. has been so busy across the world that it has neglected — and often scorned — our neighbors. Yet from immigration to terrorism to climate change and economic vitality, good relations with our neighbors are critical.

Ending the outmoded cold war against an island 90 miles off our shore is long overdue. By taking this step, President Obama can revive U.S. leadership in the region and bring to an end an historic embarrassment.

Jesse Jackson Wraps up Visit to Cuba Without Seeing Alan Gross Reply

(EFE) The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Monday ended his visit to Havana without having been able to see Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence here after being convicted of subversion.

Jackson told the foreign press that last Saturday he asked Cuban authorities to allow him to see Gross, but they told him they would need more notice to coordinate such a visit.
Nevertheless, the U.S. civil rights activist said that he spoke about the Gross case with Cuban officials.

In remarks made on Monday, Jackson expressed his hope that Gross’s release can be secured and he declared that there are “open channels” between Havana and Washington to deal with this matter and that of the four Cuban espionage agents imprisoned in the United States.

Gross, 64, traveled to Cuba on behalf of a Maryland company that won a contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information on the Communist-ruled island.

He was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment in his possession. Havana said he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion. In August 2012, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American.

Cuba has hinted that it would release Gross in exchange for the return of the four members of the “Cuban Five” who remain jailed in the United States.

Washington dismisses talk of a possible swap and insists that Cuba free Gross immediately and without conditions.

Jesse Jackson Hopes to See Imprisoned American Alan Gross in Cuba, Meet with Religious Leaders Reply

By Peter Orsi, Associated Press

HAVANA – The Rev. Jesse Jackson travelled to Cuba Friday for talks with the island’s religious leaders and said he hopes to visit Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence in the Caribbean nation.

In brief comments outside a seaside Havana hotel, Jackson told reporters he intended to meet with local clergy about their concerns for the needs of the poor, and to discuss relations between Cuba, the United States and the rest of the Caribbean.

Asked whether he would meet with Gross, Jackson said: “I would like to.”

Gross was arrested in December 2009 after authorities caught him importing restricted communications equipment into the country.

He said he was only setting up Internet networks for island Jewish groups, but a court convicted him on a statute governing crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years.

The case threw already cool U.S.-Cuba relations into a deep freeze, although there have been signs of some thawing this year.

Jackson has travelled to Yugoslavia, Syria and Iraq in the past to help gain freedom for U.S. citizens jailed there.

In March 2011, shortly before Gross’ trial, he appealed to Cuba to release the man on humanitarian grounds and offered to help mediate.

Former President Jimmy Carter came to Havana later that month, but left without Gross.

In September 2011, the former governor of New Mexico and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, made a high profile visit to try to negotiate Gross’ release.

But the trip abruptly fell apart amid mutual recriminations as Richardson wasn’t even allowed to see Gross, and referred to him in public comments as a “hostage.”

Jackson has visited Cuba on several occasions and met with both former President Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro. In 1984, he helped negotiate the release of 26 Cuban prisoners. Most of them went into exile.

On Friday, Jackson said he hopes to help continue healing the wounds of a five-decade divide between islanders and exiles.

“It’s good to be back to Cuba again,” Jackson said. “We’ve been here over the years. We have developed kinships with many Cuban-Americans trying to build Cuban-Cuban American family reunification.”

“We hope for the day we will have the walls down, the bridges built,” he said.