“Raúl Castro asked me to let the world know that Cuba is ready to talk with the U.S. authorities,” said Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader and self-proclaimed anti-Semite, who recently met with Castro in Havana (shortly before he warmly embraced Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on the fringes of the UN General Assembly).
The regime is using a twin-track approach in its efforts to ‘engage’ the US and secure the lifting of the trade embargo, observers suggest.
On the one hand, it is holding hostage Alan Gross, a US government contractor jailed last year for distributing laptop PCs to Cuban community groups. It was reported this week that Gross may be suffering from cancer, according to an independent review of his medical records.
“Gross has a potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards,” U.S.-based radiologist Alan Cohen said.
But the regime appears unfazed by his condition.
“Cuban government doctors are either guilty of gross professional negligence or they are intentionally hiding what could be a lethal condition,” said his attorney Jared Genser.
The Communist authorities are also relying on US-based sympathizers and fellow-travelers to shift public sentiment by painting a picture of a post-authoritarian government – a Caribbean equivalent of Burma – embarking on an unprecedented reform process, in an attempt to open fresh avenues for dialogue with Washington.
“Yet the issue is not about talking. The avenues for engagement between Cuba and the U.S. have never been closed,” says Jaime Suchlicki director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:
For the U.S. to change its policies there has to be a willingness on the part of the Cuban leadership to offer real concessions in the area of human rights and political change. No country changes its policies without a substantial quid pro quo from the other side…..Despite economic difficulties, Raúl Castro does not seem ready to provide meaningful and irreversible concessions for a U.S.-Cuba normalization. He may release and exile some political prisoners; he may offer more consumer goods and food to tranquilize the Cuban population; but no major structural reforms that would open the Cuban economy and no political openings.
While Burma has released hundreds of political prisoners and allowed opposition groups the right to organize, Cuba’s government continues to stifle dissent, suppress independent civil society groups and harass rights activists, including advocates of minority rights.
The regime’s incremental reforms are unlikely to produce systemic change or anything approaching a China model, say observers.
“Raúl is no Deng Xiaoping and no friend of the U.S.”, writes Suchlicki, author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond:
Raúl’s legitimacy is based on his closeness to Fidel Castro’s policies of economic centralization and opposition to the U.S. He cannot now reject Fidel’s legacy and move closer to the U.S. A move in this direction would be fraught with danger. It would create uncertainty among the elites that govern Cuba and increase instability as some advocate rapid change while others cling to more orthodox policies. The Cuban population also could see this as an opportunity for mobilization to demand faster reforms.
“Not all problems in international relations can be solved. Some require the use of force; others, significant patience; still others, diplomacy and negotiation,” Suchliki concludes. “In the case of Cuba, we should wait for the passing of the gerontocracy in power now and hope for a new, more flexible leadership later.”