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Posted December 18, 2008 by publisher in US Embargo

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Reporting by Ray Colitt; writing by Stuart Grudgings, Editing by Sandra Maler | Reuters

Cuban President Raul Castro proposed on Thursday a swap of prisoners with the United States as a goodwill “gesture” to pave the way for talks with incoming U.S. President Barack Obama.

His offer to release political dissidents in exchange for the release of five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons was the most specific proposal yet to ease ties with the United States since Obama, who takes office on January 20, was elected in November.

Castro’s comments are likely to fuel growing expectations in Latin America that the Obama administration will help thaw U.S.-Cuba ties that have been frozen since Washington imposed an economic embargo in 1962.

“Let’s do gesture for gesture,” Castro told reporters during a visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia.

“These prisoners you talk about—they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We’ll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts,” he said, referring to the convicted Cuban spies.

On Tuesday, 33 Latin American and Caribbean leaders urged Obama to lift the embargo on the Communist country as soon as he takes office. They also demanded the immediate lifting of measures taken in the past five years by President George W. Bush to toughen the embargo against Cuba, where Fidel Castro seized power in a 1959 revolution.

“It’s not Cuba who has to ask for the end of the embargo,” said President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who held the news conference with Castro. “There is no more justification for the embargo.”

OPEN TO TALKS

Obama has said he was open to talks and has pledged to ease limits on Cuban-Americans who travel to their homeland and send money to relatives living there.

But he has said he would keep the four-decade-old U.S. trade embargo as leverage to influence changes in the one-party state.

Obama has so far not commented on remarks made by Raul and his brother, former Cuban president Fidel Castro, signalling a willingness to hold talks with his administration.

Castro said he was open to meet Obama anywhere but that the encounter had to be on equal terms, with U.S. recognition of the island’s sovereignty.

“Without a shadow (of doubt) over our sovereignty,” said Castro.

Castro, who at one point was visibly irritated by a reporter’s question about political dissidents in Cuba, was on the last day of his first foreign trip as president.

Since taking office in February, Raul Castro has bolstered ties with Russia and China and is now seeking to take advantage of Brazil’s stated goal of boosting Cuban trade, especially in its nascent oil industry.

“We want to help Cuba become self-sufficient in energy,” Lula told the Cuban delegation over lunch.

A U.S. court in June upheld the convictions of the so-called “Cuban Five,” who are serving long prison sentences for spying and conspiracy to commit murder, but opened the door to new and possibly lighter sentences for three of the men.

The men are celebrated by many in Cuba as national heroes who were spying on armed exile groups in Miami to prevent attacks on their country and are victims of Washington’s campaign against the communist-run island.

The United States regularly calls for the release of political dissidents held in Cuban prisons.

—————————————- Havana Journal Comments—————————————-

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 18, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    So this is how it’s going to be? Raul insulting the US?

    His statement infers that our legal systems, laws, court systems and crimes of the convicted are similar.  The truth is of course neither are similar.

    I think President Obama is going to have to give Raul a verbal kick in the ass if he thinks the US will tolerate these asinine comments.

    The fact is Raul really doesn’t want the Embargo lifted. I hope President Obama understands that.

    I think President Obama should threaten to lift the Embargo in February without restriction then watch Raul do something on purpose to try to kill the loosening of the Embargo.

    Let’s let China and Brazil watch how Raul will sabotage the loosening of the Embargo. Then they’ll really know with whom they are dealing.



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  2. Follow up post #2 added on December 18, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I just re-read this article and realized that I am even more pissed off at Raul for saying this line:

    “We’ll send them with their families and everything.”

    That means if he releases the prisoners then they will be exiled.

    Nice job Raul. You are an asshole just like your brother.

    I thought with all your reforms earlier this year that you possessed some new and liberal thinking away from the shadow of your brother but now I have very low expectations for you.

    Congrats on getting all the Latin American companies to include you into the Rio Group but you are in power on borrowed time.

    I know you don’t want the Embargo lifted and Obama will know that too.

    Just for the record for Havana Journal readers, I want the travel Embargo lifted on all Americans because it is our right to travel freely around the world. So, lifting the travel Embargo is for our benefit. Maybe the flood of Americans into Cuba will bring change. I don’t know but it has to be better than the failed Plan A Embargo that we have in place now.

    With regards to the trade Embargo… that can be phased out with negotiations. Business is business but restricting my right to travel to Cuba because of a handful of old exiles in Miami is just wrong.

    Let’s lift the travel Embargo and show the Cuban people that the Castro’s are the real reason behind the terrible living conditions in Cuba, not the Embargo.

    Whew… that felt good grin



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  3. Follow up post #3 added on December 18, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Hey Raul, I guess that was a pretty stupid comment you made. Were you drinking? I guess you don’t like it when the press asks you questions. Same with Sean Penn. You said some pretty dumb things then too.

    US rejects Castro dissident-prisoner exchange offer

    Cuba’s offer Thursday to release jailed political dissidents in Cuba in exchange for five Cubans convicted of spying in the United States was rejected by the State Department and Cuban rights groups.

    When asked in the Brazilian capital about Cuban political dissidents, President Raul Castro responded by proposing an exchange.

    “Those prisoners that you talk about—they (the United States) want them released? Let them tell us, we’ll send them over there with families and all. Let them return our five heroes. It is gesture from both sides,” Castro said.

    The 77-year-old also said that improved ties with the United States would not happen only through “unilateral gestures,” a month before Barack Obama takes over the US presidency.

    The US State Department rejected the proposal shortly afterward.

    “The issue of political prisoners held against their will, merely for making peaceful protests, is independent of the case of the five spies tried and convicted under due process of the US judicial system,” the department’s deputy spokesman Robert Wood told AFP.

    The five Cubans were convicted of espionage conspiracy against the United States and sentenced in a Miami, Florida federal court to long prison terms in June 2001.

    They include an aerodrome construction engineer, two international relations graduates, an economics graduate and a pilot.

    The men had argued that they were monitoring Florida-based anti-Castro groups to prevent terrorist attacks on Cuba, and that their work was not directed against the US government.

    In Cuba, there are 219 political prisoners behind bars, including 67 adopted as prisoners of conscience by rights group Amnesty, according to the illegal Cuban Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation.

    Castro did not state a number of dissidents which could be involved in a possible exchange for the five Cubans.

    Cuban dissidents in Havana criticized the president’s offer.

    “It’s vulgar blackmail because these men should never have been prisoners and that’s why they can’t be used as bargaining chips,” said Laura Pollan, a leader of a group of prisoners’ wives.



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  4. Follow up post #4 added on December 19, 2008 by edward with 65 total posts

    I believe the travel restrictions and the embargo both contribute to maintaining the status quo.

    If Obama lifts travel restrictions and the embargo is loosened then Cuba will change.


  5. Follow up post #5 added on December 19, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Here’s the Cuban government’s version of the news story.

    The Cuban government article says “Cuban leader makes an attractive offer that would please his compatriots on both sides of the Florida Straights”.

    This quote is a lie. Here is the story from the BBC and there is no mention of an “attractive offer”.

    More lies from Circles Robinson who refuses to admit that he works for and is edited by the Cuban government.



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  6. Follow up post #6 added on December 19, 2008 by paul

    @ Edward

    Nothing will change in Cuba if Cuba’s supporters and the Cuban government are asking for the credit Embargo to be lifted. They’ll default on payments,screen what they don’t want to come in,and continue funneling things towards the nomenklatura and the tourism industry (like they do now). We already sell Cuba quite a bit, along with other countries, and everything is still funneled towards the aforementioned.

    I’d love to see the travel embargo lifted on Cubans first…along with the lifting of the huge taxation by the Cuban government on remittances.


  7. Follow up post #7 added on December 22, 2008 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    I notice that Raul did not call for the release of the ‘other’ Cuban 5 - the five Cuban spies that pleaded guilty to the crimes they were accused of. They obviously are non-persons to the Cuban government as they did not lie in court.


  8. Follow up post #8 added on December 23, 2008 by Curt

    Publisher, you are an asshole just the right wing fascists in Miami. The Cuban 5 are great examples of political prisoners in the U.S. Yes they do exist now as they have in the past. The Cuban 5 were only infiltrating groups that were hostile to Cuba in response to hotel bombings in Cuba orchestrated by Luis Posada-Carrilles and in response to the bttr flights over Cuban airspace. The bttr pilots were repeatedly warned by both the U.S and Cuban governments not to fly over Cuban airspace and drop leaflets.  The Cuban 5 are heros whether you like it or not and hopefully justice will prevail and they will soon be free! Venceremos!


  9. Follow up post #9 added on December 23, 2008 by Curt

    By the way I think that is a very fair offer that was proposed by Raul.


  10. Follow up post #10 added on December 23, 2008 by paul

    The Cubans rotting in Cuban prisons are there because the government cannot stand any sort of dissent. Regardless of how you fellow travelers spin the intent of the “Cuban 5”, they got caught spying on US soil.

    It still blows my mind that some of you folks willingly defend that military society. You would be the same people painting the “German Democratic Republic” with rose colored glasses, while the Stasi was jailing people for similar reasons that the Cuban government does.

    Stop demonizing Cubans in Miami. Not everyone was some rich business owner. Plenty of normal, good people were trampled on by the Cuban government, and they will never have tolerance for a dictatorship which is spin doctored and rose colored by fellow travelers/agents of influence.


  11. Follow up post #11 added on December 23, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Curt,

    There’s no need for name calling here and I don’t appreciate being compared to the old Cuban exiles in Miami. Funny that they don’t like the Havana Journal either and think I am a supporter of Fidel.

    I am happy to be disliked by both because the truth lies in the middle between your extreme and that from Miami.

    Also, I’ll take the US court system and our freedoms over the Cuban court system and laws against free speech.

    For anyone to compare an Oscar Elias Biscet to the Cuban Five is absurd.



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  12. Follow up post #12 added on December 24, 2008 by robert l marror

    The Cuban Five were rail roaded for nothing more than political reasons and to assure that the campaign contributions keep coming in from the dying old communist’ in little havana. Their sentences were greater than ever handed out for similar crimes and were unreasonable as was stated by several U.S. Senators.
    This was nothing more than politics,  miami cuban communist’s style.


  13. Follow up post #13 added on December 24, 2008 by paul

    Whatever Robert.

    If American spies were caught on Cuban soil, they would be rotting in jails that the International Red Cross can’t even visit, with even less of a chance to see daylight after serving their sentences.


  14. Follow up post #14 added on December 24, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    So it’s all a big conspiracy?

    Please tell me how many people are involved in the conspiracy to arrest, convict, sentence, imprison and impede the appeal of the Cuban Five.

    I’d like to get a handle on how many dozens or even hundreds of people are in on this conspiracy to “assure that the campaign contributions keep coming in…”.

    This is why I haven’t taken a position on the Cuban Five. From all that I have read they were found guilty of crimes, sentenced to jail and have had appeals and lost every step of the way.

    Also, I agree with Paul. I’ll bet the Cuban Five live better than most people who are not even in jail in Cuba.

    So, let’s not give Raul any credit for making such a stupid comment about “gesture for gesture”. If he wants respect he has to earn it.



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