Cuba seeks to come in from the cold

Cuba wants to re-establish relations with the United States with a focus on humanitarian issues, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Monday.

Rodriguez also called on President Barack Obama to release five Cubans serving US espionage sentences, telling the opening of the new UN General Assembly that the continued imprisonment of the five men convicted of espionage in 2001 is “inhumane”. The Cuban government refers to the five men as heroes who were gathering information about terrorist groups in the United States to protect their homeland.

The foreign minister said the two countries had many points of understanding in common.

“The Cuban government reiterates its willingness and interest to move toward the normalisation of relations with the United States,” Rodriguez said.

“Today I reiterate the proposal of beginning a dialogue aimed at solving bilateral problems, including humanitarian issues, as well as the offer of negotiating several cooperation agreements to combat drug-trafficking, terrorism, human smuggling, prevent natural disasters and protect the environment.”

Among the humanitarian issues pending between the two countries is the continued imprisonment of American Alan Gross, who the Cuban government accuses of illegally bringing communications equipment on to the island while on a USAid-funded democracy building programme.

In March of this year he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state.

Cuban officials including President Raul Castro accused him of spying, but Gross says he was only trying to help the island’s tiny Jewish community get internet access.

The case has harmed any chance of improved relations between Washington and Havana, which briefly seemed to be getting better after Obama assumed the presidency.

In an interview with the New York Times during his current visit to the United States, Rodriguez did not rule out the possibility of Gross being freed for humanitarian reasons. But he indicated Cuba would expect some kind of reciprocal action.

Rodriguez did not mention Gross in his speech to the assembly on Monday, but spoke several times about the five imprisoned Cubans.

‘Blockade has cost $975bn’
Rodriguez said the US has “intensified” efforts to overthrow his government.

The US embargo on Cuba was first partially imposed in 1960 — just after Fidel Castro staged his revolution — and remains in force with the US banning most trade and most travel to the Caribbean island.

Rodriguez said the embargo has been “tightened” and “the damage it has caused total $975-billion, according to the present gold price.”

“Attempts to subvert the constitutional order that Cubans have free elected have intensified,” he added.

Obama in 2009 reversed the restrictions on immediate family travel and allowed Cuban Americans to send remittances to relatives. Some direct flights are also allowed. But he cannot lift the embargo without Congress approval.

Rodriguez also warned on Monday that US and Nato-fostered regime change, such as what had taken place in Libya, might soon plague leftist Latin American leaders who run afoul of the United States.

“The United States and Nato, supposedly to avoid a massacre, launched a military attack against a sovereign state without there being any threat to international peace and security, and unleashed a ‘change of regime’ operation,” he told the General Assembly.

“Now everybody has a better understanding of the concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ and what it can be used for,” Rodriguez said in his address.

Cuba, the Americas’ only one-party Communist regime, plus its allies Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua have slammed the Nato-led operation that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. – Sapa-AP, AFP

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