More calls for US to lift Cuban embargo
Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), JosÈ Miguel Insulza, has criticised the long-running United States-imposed economic sanction against Cuba and is banking on discussions surrounding an imprisoned American in Havana to change the course of the five-decade-long stand-off.
According to Insulza, the United States (US) government has been very obstinate over the last 50 years, although there are clear indications that the sanctions make no sense.
"The attempt to ostracise Cuba failed almost from the beginning," Insulza told senior journalists at The Gleaner's offices on a visit to Jamaica last week.
"And the reason for doing that was not really important, but then disappeared, because nobody believed that Cuba was a threat to the region," added Insulza.
February 7, 2015 will mark the 53rd anniversary of the US embargo against Cuba.
Known among Cubans as 'el bloqueo' or 'the blockade', the embargo consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on travel and commerce.
Proponents of the embargo argue that Cuba has not met the US conditions for the lifting. These conditions include a transitioning to democracy and improving human rights.
They say if America backs down without getting concessions from Havana, it will make the United States appear weak, and that only the Cuban elite would benefit from open trade.
HOPING TO SEE CUBA AT SUMMIT
But Insulza said he has invested a lot of time in trying to get Washington to lift the sanctions against Cuba.
"Now we are hoping that Cuba will be present at the next Summit of the Americas," he told The Sunday Gleaner.
Insulza said the decision to get Cuba back in the thick of things is not hinged on the decision of the OAS - although it is the secretariat - but all the countries of the Americas.
The OAS secretary general stressed that Cuba is still a member of the regional body, as it has never denounced the treaty. "But they need to have some framework (reason) to explain why they are coming back to the OAS," he said.
Added Insulza: "If I were to give any advice I would say, '[Cuba], you probably should not wait until something happens that will [need] to include your presence in the OAS, but not make it the only thing that you do - just being present'."
According to Insulza, changes could come based on the discussions surrounding Alan Gross, the American contractor who US officials said went to Cuba to deliver communication equipment to religious groups.
He was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Cuban court, the latest turn in a case that could trip up thawing relations between the countries.
The United States has portrayed Gross, 61, as a suburban Washington humanitarian who was merely taking satellite telephone equipment, which could be used to bypass heavy Internet restrictions in Cuba, to the small community of Cuban Jews when he was detained in December 2009.
But Cuban authorities said American officials, who eventually acknowledged that Gross lacked a proper visa and was working on a secretive United States Agency for International Development programme, must have known that such equipment was barred in Cuba without a permit.
The Obama administration has called Gross' case a sticking point in improving relations with Cuba.