- U.S. and Cuban officials have held mid-level discussions in Washington and Havana
- ‘We’re in talks’ with Cuba on a wide range of issues, agreed Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on Tuesday
- Middle-men including Latin American diplomats have also been carrying messages back and forth between Washington and Havana
- U.S.-Cuba relations have seen an unprecedented thaw since President Obama took office, and a host of lawmakers with Cuban ties are upset
- America’s 50-year-long trade embargo with the communist nation has been slammed by the UN but embraced by survivors of the Castro regime
The handshake seen ’round the water cooler was no fluke, it turns out.
When President Barack Obama approached the podium at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service and made a beeline for a row of foreign leaders – stopping first to shake Cuban dictator Raúl Castro’s hand – it came after representatives from the two historically antagonistic nations had already been in talks for six months.
‘[B]ehind the scenes,’ two Daily Beast national security reporters wrote on Tuesday, ‘U.S. and Cuban officials have held midlevel discussions in Havana and Washington on a range of issues, including direct postal service, migration issues, disaster response, and search and rescue at sea.’
During the president’s trip back from South Africa, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One that ‘it’s been quite some time since the Presidents of the United States and Cuba were even in the same place.’
News that the two leaders’ deputies have been meeting in secret comes after nearly five years of a foreign policy thaw between the U.S. and the communist island nation, and nearly two decades after Mandela himself suggested that the two countries re-evaluate their icy Caribbean staring match.
The Obama administration has already turned heads by lifting an earlier prohibition on family travel and money transfers to Cuba. But a hostage situation and the iron fist that Castro wields against pro-Democracy activists have largely kept the U.S. at arms’ length.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice laid out a case for the softer approach on Dec. 4 during a speech during a Washington, D.C. human right summit.
‘Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms,’ said Rice. ‘And that’s why President Obama has increased the flow of resources and information to ordinary citizens.’
Cuban-American lawmakers were brutal in their assessment of the South Africa handshake, and threaten to make noise if the White House takes public steps toward relaxing its half-century-long estrangement and trade embargo.
‘When the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant,’ Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday during a Capitol Hill hearing.
‘President Obama failed the people of Cuba with this very public handshake,’ added Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon.
In July the nation of Panama intercepted a ship traveling from Cuba to North Korea with a cargo of what the vessel’s manifest said was sugar. It turned out to be a massive cache of missiles and missile parts intended for one of America’s more fearful enemies, in violation of both U.S. and United Nations sanctions.
Full article: Obama shook Raúl Castro’s hand after SIX MONTHS of secret U.S.-Cuba talks, report claims (Daily Mail)