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Warmer ties with Cuba may be more politically palatable now than ever. Exit polls show that in 2012, Obama won 48% of the Cuban-American vote, more than any previous Democrat and a vast upswing from the 35% of the Cuban-American vote he won in 2008.
Moreover, as a second-term president, Obama does not have to worry about facing voters again in the key battleground state of Florida, where Cuban voters could turn on him if they perceive he is moving too fast to implement a more conciliatory policy toward the island nation.
Experts say all of these factors make it the perfect time for Gross’s supporters to push Obama to take bold steps to free Gross and improve relations with Cuba, not drive an even bigger wedge between the two countries.
Such criticism comes as no surprise to Genser, who has conducted a listening tour of Cuba experts in recent months. He is familiar with the arguments for a different approach. But he insists that they come from people who have no experience at getting people out of jail in authoritarian states.
“I have worked on 30 cases around the world in the last decade,” Genser said. “Judy… took a private and quiet strategy for much of the last three years, and what did that achieve?”
Besides, Genser said, he is pushing the administration too, albeit in a more low-key way. “We are actively working with a range of people on Capitol Hill and with NGO’s across the U.S…. to make clear to the administration that Alan’s release should be a top priority,” Genser said.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, a lecturer in international studies at the University of Denver, who lived in Cuba until 2001, said that although media coverage has focused on the Cuban side of the Gross campaign, Gross’s supporters have consistently prodded at the U.S. administration and continue to do so.
“I have particular praise for Mrs. Gross’s efforts,” said Lopez-Levy. He added that she has been extremely effective in calling out the U.S. government on its moral responsibility to bring Gross home.
Genser and Judy Gross, meanwhile, emphasized that negotiations take a willingness to talk on both sides. They insist they haven’t seen any sign that Havana is serious.
Obama “has nothing standing in his way to promote more dialogue between the two countries,” said Judy Gross, “but Cuba has a great responsibility here, as well. And if they want to open up or have more bilateral relations, then they also have to sit down and talk to the United States.”
Contact Paul Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pdberger