Diane talks with James Hohmann, national political correspondent for the Washington Post and author of the "Daily 202" newsletter.
It’s been more than 50 years since the U.S. cut ties with Cuba. The longstanding trade embargo and travel ban have increasingly been called relics of the cold war: no longer relevant in the modern day. According to some, now is the time for change, with recent economic reforms out of Havana pointing to the possibility of a more hopeful future and a productive relationship with the United States. But others say these changes do not go far enough, and that lifting the embargo would reward a regime that has caused decades of suffering. We look at the debate over lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and prospects for the future of U.S.-Cuban relations.
- Ted Piccone Senior fellow with the Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings.
- Mauricio Claver-Carone Editor, Capitol Hill Cubans; director, U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.
- William LeoGrande Professor in the school of public affairs at American University. He is coauthor with Peter Kornbluh of "Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana."
- Frank Calzon Executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Calls for renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba are getting louder in Washington, but the issue remains deeply divisive. Joining me in the studio is Ted Piccone of Brookings, Frank Calzon of The Center for Free Cuba, William LeoGrande of American University.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from Miami, Florida is Mauricio Claver-Carone of Capitol Hill Cubans. I hope you'll join in the discussion. Give us a call at 800-43-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for joining us.
MR. TED PICCONEThank you.
MR. FRANK CALZONDelighted.
MR. WILLIAM LEOGRANDEThank you.
MR. MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONEI'm glad to be here.
REHMGood to see you all. Bill LeoGrande, why now are we seeing such a strong push toward change in U.S. policy on Cuba?
LEOGRANDEWell, I think the political stars are well aligned for a shift in policy. President Obama has said since 2008 that he thought the policy of the past 50 years was a failure and needed to change and he's repeated that on a number of occasions as recently as a couple of months ago. He doesn’t have to stand for reelection at this point so he doesn't have to worry about the politics.
LEOGRANDEHillary Clinton has said she thinks the embargo's a bad idea so he doesn't have to worry about hurting her chances in the next presidential election by doing something. Recent polls from Miami have suggested that opinion is changing in the Cuban American community. And finally, in April of next year, at the summit of the Americas, Cuba will be attending for the first time.
LEOGRANDESo Raul Castro and Barack Obama will sit across the conference table from one another and that really will provide an opportunity for renewing of bilateral dialogue.
REHMAnd from you, Ted Piccone, what's your thought? Is this a good time to be having this conversation?
PICCONEI think it's a good time for additional reasons. One is which -- what's happening in Cuba itself. The current government under Raul Castro has adopted a number of economic reforms that have begun a process of liberalization, of restructuring of the economy that is giving average Cubans a chance to open their own businesses, to create their own independence from the state.
PICCONEAnd that is just one of many changes under way in Cuba that are positive and that the United States should be on the side of supporting rather than our traditional punitive approach of an embargo.
REHMAnd Frank Calzon, how do you feel about this?
CALZONWell, I feel that many of us don't like the embargo, but the issue is what Havana is doing. Havana continues to abuse the Cuban people. The overwhelming majority of the Cuban people understand that the real embargo that has to be ended is the embargo that Raul Castro has on the freedoms of the Cuban people, on their right to have a labor union.
CALZONMost of the reforms are not really that significant. The majority of -- overwhelming majority of Cubans do not have the funds needed to start any little business, such as making paper flowers at home and selling them. The majority of Cubans are black and they don’t receive remittances. Most of the people that have little somewhat businesses in Cuba are related to the Castro family.
CALZONLifting the sanctions now, unilaterally, which is what is being proposed, will only keep the Castro dictatorship longer and the suffering of the Cuban people much longer.
REHMAnd to you, Mauricio Claver-Carone, how do you see it? Is there hope in the lives of the Cuban people today? Do they anticipate lifting of the embargo?
CLAVER-CARONEWell, first and foremost, what our policy should be focused on is helping the democracy movement, which is extraordinarily impressive and represents a new generation of young, active bloggers, democracy activists. And all of them, overwhelmingly, those democracy activists asked the United States to maintain those sanctions.
CLAVER-CARONEThe push that we're seeing today is by people that want the administration, that want the president to unilaterally take those steps. But the fact remains that U.S. policy towards Cuba is codified into law and there's wide support in the U.S. Congress for the conditions for that lifting, which are essentially simple Democratic standards which 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere abide by.
CLAVER-CARONEMoreover, this policy can't be made in a vacuum. What we're seeing today in Cuba and what we've seen in the last few years is essentially a four-fold increase in political arrests. We're seeing an American hostage that's been held, development worker, Alan Gross. We're seeing the interdiction that we just saw last year of the largest shipment of illegal arms to North Korea by any country in the world ever since those international sanctions were placed, that were done by the Cuban regime.
CLAVER-CARONEWe're seeing the imprisonment of foreign businessmen in Cuba and given an arbitrary 25-year prison terms and the confiscation of hundreds of millions of dollars. We've seen the mysterious death of Cuban pro-democracy activists, like the leader of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, like the head of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya.
CLAVER-CARONESo all of those facts, when put together, it really lends the point that all these actions cannot be inconsequential and therefore is why we're seeing wide support, continuous wide support for this policy in the Congress and for these simple Democratic conditions.
REHMAll right. And given that we will be talking about Alan Gross, Cuba's relationship with North Korea, the imprisonment of certain individuals, let's just talk for a moment about what the relations are right now between the U.S. and Cuba. Bill LeoGrande.
LEOGRANDESo at the moment, we have an economic embargo on Cuba. It's the most extensive embargo that we have on any country in the world. It's lasted longer than any embargo that we've had on any country in the world.
REHMAnd how has it effected the Cuban people?
LEOGRANDEWell, I think it's certainly retarded the growth of the Cuban economy and in that way has hurt the standard of living or ordinary Cubans. When Pope John Paul II went to Cuba in 1998, he called for the United States to lift the embargo precisely because of its impact on ordinary Cubans. The Cuban elite are not the ones that are hurt by the embargo. It's ordinary people.
LEOGRANDEThere is some bilateral dialogue between Cuba and the United States in a book that I just recently published with a co-author, Peter Kornbluh called "The Hidden History of -- or "Back Channel To Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana." We show that every administration since Eisenhower has negotiated with Cuba and we've been able to reach a number of bilateral agreements on issues of mutual interest.
LEOGRANDEBut no administration has been able to jump the gap, if you will, to really engage the issue of the embargo and that remains then the core issue between the two countries.
REHMFrank Calzon, since you have -- and perhaps you don't agree, but do you agree it's the ordinary Cubans who are being hurt by the embargo?
CALZONThe real embargo, again, is the embargo of the Castro government against the Cuban people. If one looks at the history of embargo, you will find that for the first 15 or 20 years, which is right after the embargo was placed, Fidel Castro kept saying that the embargo was a joke. Fidel Castro said that he was not going to change a cow for a goat.
CALZONFidel Castro said that his trade relations with the Soviet Union were much better than anything the United States could give him.
REHMIs that still the case?
CALZONNo. It's not the case, but the reason why the shortages much serious shortages now has nothing to do with embargo. It has to do with the fact that the Castro government is a communist government that's mismanaged, as the usual communist economy and the Russians are not giving him everything that he wants.
REHMHow do you see the effects of the embargo, Ted Piccone?
PICCONEI think there's no question that life is very difficult for the average Cuban. But we should mention that in this large comprehensive embargo, there have been some important exceptions made under the current administration. President Obama, in 2009, agreed to relax travel and remittances back to Cuba. And I think that's had an impact and it's helped a lot of people.
PICCONEThe average annual flow of remittances about 2 to $3 billion a year from the United States, in addition to another about $3 billion in goods and other products that average Cuban American families are sending to their relatives on the island and this has helped people get through. It's also been a source of revenue for people to invest in their own small business, which is now something allowed by the Cuban government.
PICCONEI think what we should do is propel that momentum forward and allow all Americans to provide the kind of remittances and technical assistance and even trade with this new micro enterprising portion of the Cuban society.
REHMMauricio, to you. How do you believe the embargo is affecting average Cubans?
CLAVER-CARONEWell, the historical fact is that Cuba has received the two largest subsidies in modern-day history, first from the Soviet Union, then from Venezuela. And the result has been very poor. The Cuban people have not enjoyed any of those benefits. Moreover, to this day, over 100 countries in the world do business and transact, trade with Cuba and that hasn't benefitted the Cuban people in any way.
CLAVER-CARONESo those are the facts. I mean, we've seen how that's had an effect. Now, in regards to what lifting the embargo would do is essentially take the example of all those countries throughout the world. Every single transaction that's done, trade wise, with Cuba is only done with one entity in Cuba, With the state. Even humanitarian transactions, and Ted mentioned the agricultural and medical sales that have taken place...
REHMMauricio, I'll have to stop you there. We need to take a short break. When we come back, we'll hear more about whether to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about conversation that is going on in Washington certainly about the possibility of lifting the trade embargo against Cuba. Bill LeoGrande, could the president do that unilaterally?
LEOGRANDENot entirely. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 wrote the embargo into law, but it also wrote into law the president's executive authority to license certain transactions with Cuba. So the president can and has made exceptions to the embargo through that licensing authority. How far he could go is a matter of legal debate I think, but the kind of exception that Ted was talking about earlier of licensing trade with the non-state sector of the Cuban economy is certainly something the president could do if he wanted to.
REHMI'd like to hear about Alan Gross, Frank Calzon. He was arrested nearly five years ago. He's a government subcontractor. Why was he arrested?
CALZONHe was arrested because he there to give a laptop and a satellite telephone to a Jewish group in Cuba. The -- he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which is the same number of years that Fidel Castro was sentenced.
CALZONBecause the Cuban government wants to discourage people from taking a laptop or a telephone. When your other guests go to Cuba, they don't take a computer and they don't give it to the dissidents. Alan Gross -- besides that, something very important happened. A lot of the people that talk about Alan Gross today, what they really want is a Cuban spies exchange. When a Cuban spy asked to go to Cuba to see a sick relative, the Obama Administration, to his credit, let him go, let the Cuban spy go to Cuba.
CALZONWhen Alan Gross asked to go to America to see his dying mother, Raul Castro said, no. None of the people that talk about Alan Gross so much today raised their voice and said to Raul Castro, please, let Alan Gross come to see his dying mother, and she died.
PICCONEI think you have to put the Alan Gross case in a wider context. There are some specific issues you could point to. For example, working with the Jewish community in the island but not telling them that he was a USAID contractor working with U.S. government money. So that was a bit of a problem. But more broadly, his work was part of a larger regime change democracy promotion program that the U.S. congress funds every year to the tune of $20 million a year. So we have already allocated or spent over 2, $300 million on this program trying to promote democratic change in Cuba.
PICCONEHas it worked? I don't think so. I think there's been some very important assistance to human rights defenders in Cuba and the difficulties they face. And I think we can all agree that the way the Cuban government treats human rights activists on the island is atrocious and should be corrected. The question is, how do we go about doing that? How do we go about changing that? And I think the embargo has only helped create sympathy for the Cuban regime.
PICCONEThe UN, again for the 23rd year in a row, has condemned the U.S. embargo. There were only the United States and Israel voting against that resolution. So we've isolated ourselves from the international community and are really unable to have real influence on the island.
REHMSo I'm to understand exactly why Alan Gross went to Cuba, Bill LeoGrande.
LEOGRANDESo he had a subcontract with DAI International or DAI, Inc. which had a contract with USAID under this democracy promotion program.
REHMOkay. All right.
REHMSo he was there to push democracy on behalf of the U.S. government.
LEOGRANDEYes. I mean, he was an implementer, if you will, of this broader program which is authorized by the Helms-Burton legislation and is specifically aimed at changing the Cuban government.
REHMSo say the reverse were to happen, that a Cuban spy came here because in effect, is that what he was doing?
LEOGRANDEWell, he wasn't engaged in espionage in the classic sense. He was...
REHMIn the classic sense.
LEOGRANDEWell, in the classic sense of trying to steal Cuban government secrets. What he was doing instead was trying to empower Cubans to change the Cuban government, which the Cuban government regards as subversion and which, in fact, is a violation of Cuban law. We may not think that that law is an appropriate one, but it is a violation of Cuban law. So to say he's a hostage as if he was just snatched off the street is really a mischaracterization.
CALZONWell, that's what former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico calls him, a hostage. He is a hostage. He's not a spy. If a Cuban comes to America and gives anybody here a laptop or a telephone...
REHMYeah, but the laptop is sort of symbolic. What he was doing was promoting democracy in Cuba.
CALZONYeah, but people -- Diane, people don't go to prison for doing symbolic things. The fact is that what he did is not a crime anywhere in the world.
REHMExcept in Cuba.
CALZONExcept in -- and North Korea. And North Korea is a close ally of Cuba. And now we're -- as we speak here, there is a meeting in New York at the United Nations because Cuba is doing everything it can to prevent the UN from taking North Korea to the international court for everything that Cuba has done.
CALZONWhen we talk about Cuba we need to talk about Korea -- North Korea, we need to talk about Syria. That's where Cuba is involved.
REHMAll right. Mauricio, I know you wanted to jump in there.
CLAVER-CARONEYes, please, please. I mean, kind of this conversation had me -- we want to condemn someone because they're promoting democracy. The United States has democracy programs and promotes democracy not only in Cuba, but in Syria, in Iran, in North Korea, in Burma, in all kinds of authoritarian states throughout the world.
CLAVER-CARONEWhat Alan Gross was doing in Cuba is protected under Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows for the establishment of free communications regardless of frontiers. Now this is the same also that the United States did during the Cold War. Do we condemn the fact that the United States helped people and dissidents in the solidarity movement and in the former Czech Republic that had Morse Code equipment? Now it's a little bit more sophisticated because we wanted internet connectivity.
CLAVER-CARONEThe reason why Alan Gross is in prison is because he challenged the monopoly, the internet monopoly that the Cuban wants to have over the Cuban people. He was helping a community on the island establish freely to the internet. And that's something that is illegal in Cuba. The Cuban government arrests hundreds of Cubans per month for trying to have a satellite dish performing a home -- a house-made satellite dish in order to get Wi-Fi or internet connectivity or satellite reception from abroad. That is a crime in Cuba because they believe there's a monopoly.
CLAVER-CARONEAlan Gross helped those Cubans be able to get this free communication. And by challenging them he was put in prison. And he is a hostage in a sense that the Cuban government has made absolutely clear that his release will be conditioned upon the release of these Cuban spies that were duly convicted in federal court including for the murder or for conspiracy to murder against Americans. That is a hostage. That's the definition of a hostage taking.
REHMAll right. All right. Is there that kind of trade under discussion, Ted?
PICCONEI think there have been various efforts to get Alan Gross out of his Cuban jail. I think the United States government should do much more to try to negotiate a way through this problem. I'm not sure a swap is the best way. There are -- that is one option. There are others that have been discussed. The problem is that there's certain pro-embargo voices, including congress, who say we should not negotiate at all with the Cuban government. To get Alan Gross out the Cuban government should just do this unilaterally out of humanitarian concern.
PICCONEThat would be a nice gesture if the Cubans did that. I'm not sure it's going to work. So I think we better get started on a serious senior high-level negotiation in which we could talk about this and many other issues that we need to address with Cuba.
REHMBill LeoGrande, how does Ebola fit into this debate?
CLAVER-CARONEMay I answer that real quick, Diane?
LEOGRANDEWell, the Ebola crisis in West Africa has really created an opportunity for the possibility of Cuban-U.S. cooperation. After the earthquake in Haiti in January of 2010, the United States and Cuba had initially very good cooperation in providing assistance to Haitians.
LEOGRANDERight now in the Ebola case, it's very similar. The United States is in the process of building infrastructure in West Africa to treatment centers, hospitals and so on. The Cubans are sending medical personnel who could staff that infrastructure. So the possibility -- the complimentarity of the assistance that we are giving and that Cuba is giving would enable us to cooperate in a real humanitarian crisis. And I think it's something that could be done and should be done regardless of all these other issues.
REHMFrank Calzone, how do you see that? Here the Cuban people working with the American coalition trying to help here.
CALZONDiane, the Cuban people have never been asked whether they want to do one thing or the other. The Castro brothers would decide. It's the Castro brothers who tell those doctors, you must go. It's the Castro brothers that want to keep Alan Gross in prison. It is not accurate to say that there's a lot of efforts on the hill to prevent the United States from talking to Cuba. The United States continues to talk to Cuba. You just heard that the United States is cooperating with the Cuban doctors in Africa.
CALZONSo that -- I mean, there's a lot of -- there is an ongoing public relations effort that Havana has a lot something to do. I think we ought to compliment Dr. LeoGrande here because he just returned from Havana where he presented a book. But a Cuban who writes a book in Cuba goes to prison for writing a book.
PICCONEI would just say on the Ebola issue, there is an opportunity here to show that there can be good cooperation between Cuba and the United States. There is -- There are some questions we should ask ourselves and ask the Cubans in the way they do their medical diplomacy. There's been great value to it but it has some costs. And I think it's right to ask those questions.
PICCONEBut at the same time, they do have one of the better medical services in the developing world. And it gives Africans an opportunity to receive that kind of support. It's also a gesture that they make and work -- very important actually for the Cuban government to receive currency from countries like Venezuela and Brazil and others where Cuban medical workers go and provide medical services. I think there's some challenges to how they do that but it shows how desperate the Cubans are for some kind of income given the embargo they live under.
REHMAll right. we're going to open the phones. I'll go first to Miami, Fla. and Eugene. Hi there, you're on the air.
EUGENEGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
EUGENEInteresting topic. Thank you for taking it. I happen to have the opportunity to go to Cuba last year for a week and spent some time in Havana and saw firsthand what the embargo is like. I mean, I grew up the son of Cuban immigrants before the revolution. Long story short, I think Castro is not interested in lifting an embargo. Castro uses that embargo in order to state that, you know, the United States is the big evil and that we can -- he can, you know, point the finger at us instead of himself and his inadequacies.
EUGENEIt's also big business. I mean, it's big business on both sides of the fence. There's a big black market in Cuba regarding the president's embargo as well as companies or people, especially down in South Florida, that make money in terms of the flights and the over baggage. I know when I left for Cuba I had to pay a significant amount of money in terms of over baggage. And that money's going in the pockets of people on both sides of the fence. And I was wondering if your panel could comment on that thought process.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. This whole business that Castro brothers remain in control because they can continue to blame the U.S.
LEOGRANDEWell, you know, Fidel Castro made a political career out of wrapping himself in the Cuban flag and mobilizing Cuban nationalism in the face of the hostility of the United States. And he even admitted at one point that if they had normal relations with the United States it would diminish his prestige somewhat.
LEOGRANDEAnd yet nevertheless, over the years he actually did reach out to U.S. presidents repeatedly to try to get a better relationship. Raul Castro is different though. He does not spend a lot of time bashing the United States in his speeches in the way Fidel used to. He talks about the problems of Cuba as being a result of Cuban policy and the need to change it.
REHMWilliam LeoGrande. He's professor in the School of Public Affairs at the American University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Santiago in Kalamazoo, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
SANTIAGOMy question for the people in the panel is this, how do you understand the concept of sovereignty? And by what right does the U.S. government fund efforts to overthrow the governments, not just of Cuba but also Nicaragua and Venezuela and Ecuador and Argentina.
REHMAll right. Frank Calzone.
CALZONYeah, I'm a political scientist. I understand the question very well but sovereignty goes back to the people. The Cuban people are not sovereign. The day that the Cuban people decides their own destiny, there would not be any problem between Washington and the United States. The problem is not with the Cuban people. The problem is with the Cuban dictatorship. It's too long. Fifty some years denying human rights in Cuba and throwing people in prison and killing dissidents is too long.
REHMWhat do you think would happen, Frank Calzon, if in fact the embargo were lifted?
CALZONIf embargo -- if we're talking about the American embargo, what people want, that want to make money, is for the American taxpayer to subsidize the Cuban government by providing credits. Cuba can buy a lot of stuff in the United States. Cuba has very little to sell to the United States. Everything that Cuba can sell they can sell. The Cuban government will claim that this is a great victory. The message will be sent to Latin America that anybody who wants to steal American property, billions of dollars in American property, you could do that. And you wait 50 years and then everything is forgotten.
REHMI don't understand your point. I really don't.
CALZONWell, the point is that the Cuban government, Fidel Castro, nationalized, confiscated all properties in Cuba including American properties, factories, stores, a couple of billion dollars.
REHMSo if the embargo were lifted, what would happen?
CALZONThe message will be sent to other governments hostile to the United States that it's okay for a foreign government to take over without compensation American properties and that everything eventually will be forgotten.
PICCONEI mean, the sovereignty issue is a critical one because it goes to the core of the Cuban identity and how they have over these years of Cuban independence feel quite proud of what they've achieved, especially in the face of such hostility from their neighbor. At the same time, I think I agree that sovereignty should depend on the will of the people as expressed through free and fair elections. And Cuba doesn't have that. And so that is an ongoing challenge.
REHMThe question is, how do we best support that change? Is it by imposing impunitive embargo and doing these stealth programs of supporting programs on the ground? I don't think so. I think we've tried that for 56 years. It hasn't worked. We need to try something new. Cuba has started to begin a process of economic change. We should use that to support middle classes in Cuba expanding.
REHMTed Piccone of the Brookings Institution. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Mauricio, I want to read you an email we have from Grand Rapids, Mich. Gloria says, "Prior to the embargo, I believe Cuba had a higher literacy rate and lower infant mortality rate than the U.S. How has the embargo affected this?
CLAVER-CARONEWell, I don't think the -- I don't think the embargo's had any affect in that regards. I mean, you know, we could have been -- obviously if it was a free country it would have continued to progress. And in that regard, since it already had such high levels under the Castro regime, it did make a certain, significant progresses in that regards. But if I can touch upon -- since I don't have the opportunity too much on your last question -- what would happen if the embargo is lifted.
CLAVER-CARONEYou know, we're seeing it. We would see -- we're seeing firsthand. We don't have to theorize about this because we're seeing it firsthand play out in Burma. When what happens when you prematurely lift sanction. The government gets -- the military dictatorship there get all the economic benefit and then they decide, hey, you know what? I'm not going to do anything more. Repression has increased. They've pulled back on the reforms and the pro-democracy movement has been sidelined.
CLAVER-CARONESo we're seeing firsthand what would happen if you prematurely lift sanctions. Moreover, in regards to what Ted had mentioned in regards to Alan Gross, I would point out -- and the Congress -- I would point out that North Korea just released three American hostages. They did so unconditionally and unilaterally. There was no quid pro quo. There was no negotiation.
CLAVER-CARONEAnd the United States purposely sent Admiral James Clapper as a security official, so that it wouldn't be a diplomat. Therefore, not giving the wrong impression that there was some type of diplomatic entreaty for it. So what we currently have here is the Cuban government looking more recalcitrant than the North Korean regime in this regards.
PICCONEWell, would we -- would you support our sending a senior level official to Cuba to try to talk directly to the senior level officials in Cuba about Alan Gross's case? We haven't seen that yet.
CLAVER-CARONEThere have been more senior -- there have been more senior level U.S. officials traveling to Cuba, sending messages from the administration, including former presidents of the United States, like Jimmy Carter. From Jimmy Carter to Jessie Jackson to half of the United States Senate and Congress have been to Cuba trying to do this. (unintelligible)…
PICCONEThey're all formers. How about a standing official? How about a senior level current official?
CLAVER-CARONEWhen Alan Gross was first taken hostage, the assistant secretary of state went to -- actually, the principle deputy assistant secretary of state at that time, Roberta Jacobson, went to Cuba right then in that (unintelligible) three months after and tried to negotiate for his release. And to Cuba. And she came back empty handed because the Cubans already saw the value. Because since we did not take consequence for this hostage-taking and instead…
CLAVER-CARONE…tried to appease the regime, they said, hey, this has a high value so we're going to ask for the spies release.
REHMAll right. Bill LeoGrande?
LEOGRANDESo, you know, I think there's a -- there are a lot of precedents for negotiations to exchange prisoners. And when we saw the exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the release of Taliban prisoners. A couple of years ago we released 10 Soviet spies in exchange for several spies in the Soviet Union who'd been working for the United States. In the case of Cuba, we had a prisoner exchange in 1963. We had another one in 1979.
LEOGRANDESo there's a lot of precedent for having at least a serious negotiation with the other side to see if we can get prisoners released. I agree that there's not equivalency in terms of what the Cuban spies were doing and what Alan Gross was doing. But there is a humanitarian equivalency. These are all people who've been in jail for a very, very long time, separated from their families. And both of these cases now are a major obstacle in terms of U.S. national interest moving forward.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Jan. "On a basic level, did the embargo accomplish its initial goals? If not, why continue a failed policy?" Frank?
CALZONThe goal of embargo has changed throughout the years. When the embargo was put in place it was because the Cuban government stole American properties in Cuba. Then the United -- then Cuba allied closely with the Soviet Union. Then there were atomic weapons in Cuba. And later, Cuba send Cubans to get -- and get killed around the United States -- around the world. Right now, as I indicated before, Cuba is a close ally of North Korea. Cuba plays a significant role against Israel at the United Nations.
REHMFrank, you're not answering the question that has been posed.
REHMOn a basic level…
REHM…did the embargo accomplish its goals? If not, why not and why continue a failed policy?
CALZONThey -- well, I don't know as I -- I wouldn't say it's a failed policy, but the embargo had an intention, which is to punish a Cuban government for stealing American property.
REHMDid it succeed?
CALZONIt did not -- well, it succeeded in preventing…
CALZONIt succeeded Cuba from having additional resources, to suppress a Cuban people, to -- against the United States. And why it did not succeed to the extent that many wanted? Because the Soviet Union came and gave them all -- everything that he wanted.
REHMBut the Soviet Union is no longer there to give them
CALZONNow, Russia is there. And Russia is reestablishing its ties with Cuba. I think Mauricio is -- he's trying to get on the line.
CLAVER-CARONEIf I may, I'm happy to answer that question, Diane.
REHMSure. Go ahead.
CLAVER-CARONEIf I may. I mean, first and foremost, as Frank mentioned, the Cuban sanctions have met this punitive factor. But putting into perspective -- and sorry, I apologize that I don't like series, too much. But if we see -- let's say, just as an example, over the last 14 years we have sold all kinds of humanitarian projects, agriculture and medical products to Cuba. There's been 340 American companies that have done so. There's only been one Cuban counterpart. A company owned by Fidel Castro called (unintelligible). That's the monopoly.
CLAVER-CARONENow, you lift the embargo and that -- and just put that on steroids. That would (unintelligible) indefinitely. In other words, doing business with those monopolies. The sanctions towards Cuba is essentially (unintelligible) United States, that the United States does not want to do, chooses not to do business with Castro's monopoly. And the facts show that historically, what the Cuban government does with that money and those monopolies do with that money, whether it was the one from the Soviet Union or now from Venezuela or from the over 100 countries that trade with only Castro's monopolies, is that it's not put to good use. It's put to repress the Cuban people, etcetera.
CLAVER-CARONEBut now from a geopolitical perspective, in this Western hemisphere, in 2001, we signed -- along with 34 out of 35 countries in the hemisphere what was called the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And it said representative democracy was going to be the centerpiece of our inter-American relations. If tomorrow we life sanctions towards Cuba, it is going to send a message to all the authoritarians in the region that have all these authoritarian ambitions, the one thing that keeps them is to show that, hey, look, Cuba is what happens to you if you decide to cross the board and go back to dictatorships like we did (unintelligible).
PICCONEI think it's important to recognize that Cuba's foreign policy has changed over time so that the original reasons for imposing the embargo are no longer valid. So including the relationship with the Soviet Union and support to armed groups in Central America and Africa, that has gone away. The Cubans are in a situation now where they no longer fulfill the conditions for what -- the original reasons for the embargo. The real reason we have the embargo is because we want them to change their regime and also return U.S. property.3
PICCONEThe first part is not negotiable. The second part is negotiable and I think there would be a process in which property claims would be resolved in a process of negotiations. But I would also mention the state sponsored terrorism list is another area that -- Cuba is currently on that list and receives additional sanctions as a result and does not belong on that list. It is not supporting terrorism acts abroad. And has shown that over and over again and needs to be taken off that list.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Tom Udall, Senator from New Mexico. And good morning to you, sir.
SEN. TOM UDALLGood morning, Diane. Thank you for putting me in. I just back from Cuba. Spent -- we did a bipartisan co-dell with Senator Flake from Arizona. And met for two hours with Alan Gross. And I agree with a lot of your panelists there that the embargo has been a failed policy. I believe we should be lifting the travel ban. I've been fighting for those things since I've been in the House of Representatives. And we're now doing that in the Senate in a bipartisan way. And I think one of the remarkable things is that we had a race for governor in Florida, where Charlie Crist came within 1 percent of winning.
SEN. TOM UDALLAnd he was for lifting the embargo. So I think the circumstances have changed dramatically here in the United States and it allows us to look at new foreign policy opportunities and new trade opportunities and doing business with Cuba in a whole different way. And…
UDALL…lifting up both countries.
REHMCan you tell me about your meeting with Alan Gross?
UDALLWell, I -- as I said, we met with him for two hours. I don't want to get into a lot of the details, but first of all, he wants to come home, more than anything.
UDALLHe doesn't think he did anything wrong. He -- I think this USAID program that he was in got him into serious trouble. And I'm glad that USAID is reconsidering these programs that push people out there in such a way that they could be accused of breaking local laws and then put in jail. But…
REHMAnd did you also manage to speak with Cuban officials about his release?
UDALLWe sure did. We met with several Cuban officials in the foreign ministry.
REHMAnd what kind of reaction did you get?
UDALLWell, they're -- where they're at -- the official party line -- and this is what you usually get from Cuban officials, is that they endorse exchange. But I -- the exchange that's been publically out there in the New York Times…
REHMAnd what would that exchange involve?
UDALLWell, the -- what people are talking about -- the New York Times has endorsed this on the editorial page, is the Cuban five who were convicted of a conspiracy, two of them are now back in Cuba, but there's still three left. And the exchange would be that three of the Cubans that are held in American jails would be exchanged for Alan Gross. I'm not so sure that that's the right construct, but it's one possibility. I think we should be -- as several of your panelists have said -- we should be having serious discussions with them about this and try to find the avenue that's going to work.
UDALLIt may be the exchange, it may be something else. We thought that this was a real opportunity to be down there, be on the ground, visit with Alan Gross and also represent to Cuban officials that this was holding back our ability to work with each other, to move down the road, to open new opportunities, to open a new page in American/Cuban relations.
REHMAnd do you believe -- and have you talked with President Obama about what actions he might take to lift the embargo?
UDALLI'm going to be doing that. We're opening avenues there. And saying this is a page you could turn. There are opportunities now, I think, for the next couple of months that may not be there when we get in the midst of a presidential campaign and people have declared their positions. And so I hope this administration, with our urging, will look at all sorts of avenues. They've done some very good things in terms of the travel ban and lifting parts of that. And it's making a big difference in the private sector, just to suggest one thing that they -- is a new avenue.
UDALLCuban Americans are traveling down there in record numbers. They're remittances where they pay money -- Cuban Americans pay money to their Cuban relatives or to others who are in business. And so they're opening up opportunities for the Cuban people. So I think this is a ripe time to be talking about this. I really complement you, Diane, in terms of focusing on this issue because I think the next four or five months could be absolutely crucial.
UDALLAnd I think the New York Times sees that also and is writing stories and editorializing it also.
REHMLet me ask you one last question. Tell me about the health of Alan Gross.
UDALLI had -- the -- all of the reports that I was seeing in the media, I expected to see a man that was in much poorer health. I did not see that. He was healthy. He carried on a coherent -- very coherent conversation with two U.S. senators for two hours. He was very plugged in to what was going on in Cuba and what was going on in the United States. He was very up to date on current events. And he was very sad, in terms of his wife and his family and his inability to be able to see his mom before she died and things like that. But I didn't think that what I had been seeing, in terms of reports, that he was -- I expected to see somebody who was in worse health.
REHMDo you expect action to come soon on Alan Gross?
UDALLI hope so. I don't have any specific evidence that suggests that something is going happen tomorrow, but I think if all of us work on this -- I'm going to work with Senator Flake. If all of us work on this in a bipartisan way and convey things to the administration, I think something can be done in the next four or five months to change the equation here and really open up -- if we can get over this hurdle, we can open up many more opportunities.
REHMSen. Tom Udall, of New Mexico. Thank you for joining us, sir.
UDALLThank you. Thank you for doing this program on -- Cheers. Take care. Bye-bye.
REHMAll right. Bye-bye. Frank Calzone, I know you want to comment.
CALZONYeah, of course, the senator means well. And he wants to talk to Mr. Obama. He should be pleading with Raul Castro to let this man who's innocent come home. On the issue of spies, it's very important to realize that at least one of the spies is convicted of having been involved in sending information that resulted in the killing of American citizens. This is someone who helped kill Americans by Cuban war planes. And I don't think American justice is served when people who kill Americans would be simply released on a political situation.
REHMBill LeoGrande, do you want to comment on that issue?
LEOGRANDEI do. In 1979 the United States released four Puerto Rican nationalists who were in prison, in exchange for four CIA agents imprisoned in Cuba. The Puerto Rican nationalists, three of them were involved in opening fire on the Congress of the United States, wounding five congressmen. The fourth was involved in the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman, in which a Secret Service officer was killed. So in those cases, who are in some ways much more egregious than the case of the Cuban five.
REHMAll right. We're going to have to leave it there. We'll see what comes in the next few months. Thank you all, Ted Piccone, Frank Calzone, William LeoGrande, Mauricio Claver-Carone. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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