One week after President Barack Obama won reelection, Havana has offered a draft agenda for U.S.-Cuba negotiations that largely repeats its years-old positions but almost directly offers to swap 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 Cubas diplomatic mission in Washington.
Obama, reelected the previous Tuesday, 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 (USAID) 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 dont see anything new there, Smith said.
This is a non-starter. 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 López-Levy, a former Cuban government analyst now lecturing at the University of Denver, called Rodriguez speech a list of maximum demands that shows the bilateral conflict can be handled better but not solved during Obamas next term.
But he added that the foreign ministers words evoked Obamas 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.
Other draft agenda items included compensation for damages caused by the U.S. sanctions, the return of the territory now used by the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo; an end to Radio/TV Marti; and a halt to U.S. financial support for dissidents.
Rodriguez also offered to negotiate agreements in areas of mutual interest, such as drug and people smuggling, terrorism, migration, natural disasters, the environment and postal services, but made no mention of human rights or democracy.
An essential element in this agenda, the foreign minister added, is the release of the five Cubans convicted of spying-related charges in Miami. Havana claims they were trying to avert possible terrorist acts by exiles.
An act of justice, or at least a humanitarian solution, will arouse the gratitude of my people and a response by our government, Rodriguez noted, not mentioning Gross by name but clearly indicating a possible swap.
Gross supporters recently complained that while the Cuban government has indirectly referred to a possible exchange for the spies many times, it has never put a swap proposal directly on the table.
The 63-year Maryland man was arrested in late 2009 after giving Cuban Jews three satellite telephones paid for by USAIDs pro-democracy programs. Havana has outlawed the programs, saying theyre part of a U.S. campaign to topple the communist system.
The Gross and Cuban spies cases are blocking the way to negotiations, said Smith, who criticizes most U.S. sanctions on Havana. Its a stalemate. Weve got to get around this in some way.