Rob Sequin | Havana Journal
Read this article then read my comments at the bottom.
By Carol J. Williams | Los Angeles Times
Bernardo Benes is plotting to reprise his role as broker of the one humanitarian breakthrough in U.S.-Cuban relations in the 50 years since Fidel Castro’s revolution came to power.
Benes, who negotiated the 1978 release of 3,600 political prisoners and the right for Cuban exiles to visit family on the communist island, plans a freelance mission to his homeland to sound out President Raul Castro on what the Havana regime wants from President-elect Barack Obama.
“I want to be a loose cannon,” said the 73-year-old retired banker. “I know Raul Castro will meet with me. We were teammates on the soccer team at the University of Havana. They trust me. My only hesitation is that they might think I have a message from Obama and they would be disappointed that I don’t.”
Benes, like other supporters of improved relations with Cuba, sees in Obama’s victory an opportunity to ease one of the most intractable relationships of the last half-century.
Benes, who was quietly dispatched by President Carter to negotiate opening contact between Cubans on the island and those who fled the 1959 revolution, believes there is desire in the Cuban leadership to end the Cold War’s last battle.
The Cuban government hailed Obama’s victory in a statement, and Foreign Investment Minister Marta Lomas said Havana hoped for an easing of the embargo. Dissidents also told foreign news agencies that they welcomed the U.S. leadership change and hoped Obama would fulfill promises to seek better ties.
“It’s really stupid what we have done for 50 years. Nobody benefits,” Benes said. “It’s a complex we have that is preventing this. Nobody wants to accept that they’ve failed.”
Benes will go to Havana via a third country, he said, without any political mandate. He said he doesn’t need a Treasury Department license exempting him from the travel embargo because he is a credentialed journalist with Our Elder Brothers and Sisters, a foundation he runs for strengthening interfaith relations.
But he said he won’t go until he has someone in the Obama transition team willing to hear whatever he finds out in Cuba.
“I know people will call me naive, but you can get a lot accomplished under the cover of naivete,” he said. “I know because that’s what was said when I went to Cuba to bring back the first group of political prisoners.”