HAVANA, Cuba, December 17, 2014 (AMG) – A major shift in the United States’ foreign policy on Cuba is set to be announced by US President Barack Obama today, according to senior D.C. sources.
The move follows the historic exchange of prisoners between the two states, which have had tenuous diplomatic relations for over five decades following the 1960 imposition of a US embargo on the Castro regime.
Alan Gross, a US contractor who worked for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was released by Havana today after being sentenced to 15 years in prison in December 2009, on suspicion of being an American spy. The Cuban government, which has routinely criticized USAID programmes as being subversive attempts by Washington to undermine Havana, arrested Gross for the importation of banned technology which allowed Cubans to bypass local internet censorship.
During his five-year imprisonment, Gross’ health deteriorated significantly, prompting a White House request for his release on humanitarian grounds.
Gross’ detention was seen by political observers as being a major stumbling block to normalizing relations between the two states.
Reports also indicate that Cuba will release an additional 53 political prisoners as part of the deal.
In exchange for Gross’ release, the US government has freed the three remaining members of the so-called ‘Cuban Five’, a group of Cuban intelligence officers dispatched by the then-Fidel Castro regime to carry out espionage in South Florida.
Hailed widely as heroes in Havana, the men were convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, espionage and acting as agents of a foreign government in 2001.
The Cuban government contends that the five had been dispatched to South Florida to spy on Miami’s Cuban exile community, following terrorist acts against Havana by former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles; acts which included the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455 off the coast of Barbados.
President Obama is expected to announce moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Havana, which could include the opening of an embassy in Havana within months. Cuban President Raul Castro is expected to make a simultaneous address in Havana on Cuban-American relations.
Quoted in the Associated Press, Republican Florida Senator Mark Rubio says that the move will include normalizing banking and trade ties with Cuba. Rubio, a 2016 presidential hopeful, is strenuously opposed to the deal and its potential benefits to the Castro regime, saying to AP: “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba, but it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments have routinely pressed the United States to end the embargo against Cuba in every iteration of the United Nations General Assembly. Last week, as CARICOM heads of government began the Fifth Cuba-CARICOM summit in Havana, Community Chairman and Antiguan Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, called on the US government to immediately lift the “senseless” embargo.
This is a rapidly developing story.