Cuban dissidents, divided on U.S. outreach, call for more consultation
By Karen DeYoung February 3
Visiting Cuban dissidents told Congress on Tuesday that while they might
disagree on the wisdom of President Obama’s new policy toward Cuba, they
were united in believing that further U.S. engagement with Havana should
be based on consultation with political activists on the island.
“There is now a unique opportunity to assist the people of Cuba, and it
must not be wasted,” independent journalist Miriam Leiva said at a
subcommittee hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Berta Soler, head of the Ladies in White movement, said that even their
disagreements were a step forward for the dissidents. “For us, they
represent a complete exercise of politics,” she said. The group
represents relatives of political prisoners in Cuba.
“The Cuban government is not a sovereign government; it has not been
elected,” Soler said. “It has rejected the opinions of the Cuban people.
They are the ones who own Cuba’s sovereignty; it’s very important to
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who chaired the hearing, opposes Obama’s
decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and work toward
“normalizing” the relationship. Earlier in the hearing, he pressed State
Department officials to explain why, in addition to Cuban activists,
they were not consulted during bilateral negotiations leading to Obama’s
Dec. 17 announcement.
The secret negotiations, over 18 months, were conducted for the United
States by two senior officials from the White House National Security
“Nobody in my bureau was involved,” said Assistant Secretary of State
Roberta Jacobson, who said she was not informed until just before the
But Jacobson said that preparations for the changes Obama announced in
U.S. trade and travel policy toward Cuba were the product of far earlier
work that was done by State and other government departments.
The work began shortly after Obama took office in early 2009, when he
indicated he favored an end to the half-century of official estrangement
with Cuba, according to several U.S. officials who were not authorized
to discuss the matter publicly. But plans to move in that direction were
suspended when Alan Gross, working on a U.S. government contract, was
arrested in Cuba late that year and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment
for distributing Internet equipment on the island.
Gross’s December release, on humanitarian grounds, was agreed on during
the secret NSC negotiations.
During the hearing, Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) expressed
extreme doubt about Obama’s new policy, arguing that the government of
Cuban President Raúl Castro had made no real concessions to win the
restoration of relations and new trade possibilities.
But most other lawmakers, while saying they wanted ongoing human rights
pressure on Havana, indicated they favored the initiative and encouraged
Jacobson and Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski, whose State
Department brief includes human rights and democracy building, to
directly counter the critics.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) asked Malinowski whether the new policy was “a
gift” to the Cuban government.
“There’s nothing in the policy that we undertook that wasn’t something
done in our national interest,” Malinowski said. “Some of it are things
the Cuban government wouldn’t have asked for. .?.?. Many regimes do not
consider a U.S. Embassy a gift. We’re pretty active and we’re pretty
Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security
correspondent for the Washington Post.
Source: Cuban dissidents, divided on U.S. outreach, call for more
consultation – The Washington Post –