Monday, November 19, 2012

Cuba hints at swapping US contractor for spies

Cuba hints at swapping US contractor for spies
By Juan Tamayo/The Miami Herald

One week after President Barack Obama won re-election, Havana offered a
"draft agenda" for US-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
UN General Assembly on Tuesday received little initial media attention.
It was disseminated more broadly on 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 US
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 US Agency for International Development sub-contractor serving
a 15-year prison sentence.
Wayne Smith, a former chief US 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 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 e-mail.
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 US state department said it had no comment on the Rodriguez proposal.
"I am again submitting to the US government a draft agenda for a
bilateral dialogue aimed at moving towards the normalisation of
relations," Rodriguez said.
His agenda items included lifting all US sanctions; removing Cuba from
the US 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 US.
Other draft agenda items included compensation for damages caused by the
US sanctions; the return of the territory now used by the US Navy base
in Guantanamo; an end to Radio/TV Marti; and a halt to US 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.

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