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Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton writes

Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton writes
In soon-to-be-released book, former secretary of state says Havana’s
refusal to release Alan is a ‘tragedy’ for detente
BY AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF June 6, 2014, 9:35 am

Efforts to ease decades of US-Cuba tensions were stymied by the
detention of Jewish American contractor Alan Gross and Havana has used
him to avoid rapprochement, Hillary Clinton writes in her new memoir of
her time as secretary of state.

In her new book, Hard Choices, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of
its release next week, Clinton, who served as secretary from 2008 to
2012, says she pushed Barack Obama to lift or ease the
decades-long US on Cuba because it was no longer useful to
American interests or promoting change on the communist island.

Despite moves toward detente, the 2009 arrest by Cuba of Gross and
Havana’s refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds became a
“tragedy” for improving ties, Clinton writes.

Clinton said she suspected that some in Cuba are using the Gross case
“as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with
the United States and the domestic reforms that would require.”

“If so,” she writes, “it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of
Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well.”

Cuba and imprisoned Gross, a contractor working for the US
Agency for International Development, who the US says was trying to help
Cuba’s small Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world. He
was convicted of trying to subvert the Cuban state and sentenced to 15
years in . Despite repeated appeals from the US, Gross remains in
prison in Cuba.

In the book, Clinton says she spoke out frequently about Gross’s
imprisonment and was disappointed that “the Castros created new problems
by arresting” him.

She said Cuba has refused to consider Gross’s release until the US frees
all of the “Cuban Five” spies who have been imprisoned in the United
States. The US has rejected Cuba’s demands to link the cases.

Hopes for an early release for Gross were momentarily raised this week
when the US agreed to exchange five Taliban prisoners for captured
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

But any hints that the US government was open to negotiating a similar
exchange for Gross were quickly dashed when State Department
spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked Monday if such a deal were possible.

“No,” she said.

“We look at each case differently,” said Psaki, stressing that
Bergdahl’s case was an extraordinary measure to free a of war.
The Pentagon has described the exchange as an of the bedrock
principle that no soldier is left behind on the battlefield.

A spokesperson for the Gross family said they are not commenting on the
Bergdahl case or anything related to it.

In May, two US lawmakers met Gross face-to-face in Cuba and said it’s
time for the Obama administration to step up efforts to bring him home.

Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) said Gross “feels very much that he’s a
pawn. He’s been kidnapped in a sense.”

“I’ve frankly come back a little critical of our own administration who
say they are working on it but, according to the Cubans, there isn’t
much that they’re hearing,” he said.

Lawmakers want the White House to push harder. In November, a coalition
of 66 senators signed a letter to President Obama calling for him to
take whatever steps are in the national interest to free Gross.

In excerpts of the book, Clinton writes that the embargo on Cuba has
given communist leaders Fidel and an excuse not to enact
democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to
normalizing relations — “to keep Cuba in a deep freeze” — has hurt both
the United States and the Cuban people.

“Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the
island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in
giving him a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes,” she writes. She
says her husband, former president Bill Clinton, tried to improve
relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not
respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was
determined to continue the effort, she writes.

She says that, late in her term in office, she urged Obama to reconsider
the US embargo. “It wasn’t achieving its goals,” she writes, “and it was
holding back our broader agenda across Latin America… I thought we
should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained
undemocratic and abusive.”

Clinton writes that in the face of “a stone wall” from the Castro
regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.

“We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to
expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of
the outside world,” she says.

The steps that Obama took, including allowing more to the island
and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the
island, have had a positive effect, she writes.

Ben Zehavi contributed to this report

Source: Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton
writes | The Times of Israel –

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