Havana — U.S. relations with Cuba are at their best in almost two decades, but President Barack Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress.
Obama suggested change was coming at a Miami fundraiser in November, saying “we have to be creative, and we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies” on Cuba, and yet he has withheld using his executive power since last easing Cuban travel restrictions in January 2011.
Many Cuba experts and policy analysts say a fundamental revision of Cuba policy is overdue and that greater U.S. involvement could promote the market-oriented reforms under way on the communist-ruled island since Cuban President Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.
The Obama administration says Cuba must first improve human rights and release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for attempting to establish an illegal communications network on the island.
“Cuba would make it a whole lot easier if they would just release Alan Gross,” said one U.S. official who is knowledgeable about Cuba policy and asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“Whenever you move on Cuba policy there is always fierce opposition from some members of Congress. There’s never a good time to do it. And it’s not clear that the benefits outweigh the negatives,” the official said.
Officials from both countries have told Reuters that U.S.-Cuban relations have taken on a more serious and pragmatic tone in recent months. They have cooperated on drug interdiction, oil-spill mitigation and immigration. Cuba experts say bilateral relations have not been this good since the 1990s, in U.S. President Bill Clinton’s first term.
The most vexing problem is the detention of Gross.
Cuba has shown no interest in releasing him without first seeing a U.S. gesture, such as releasing the “Cuban Five” agents arrested in Florida in 1998 and convicted in 2001 for spying.