Obama cozying up to Cuba? Not so much.
The State Department was quick to portray Wednesday’s meeting between Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s powerful chief of staff, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruni Rodriguez, as a big old nothingburger — even though it was the highest-level contact between the countries in … well, I don’t know how long. "They talked about Haiti," said departmental spokesman ...
The State Department was quick to portray Wednesday's meeting between Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton's powerful chief of staff, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruni Rodriguez, as a big old nothingburger -- even though it was the highest-level contact between the countries in ... well, I don't know how long.
The State Department was quick to portray Wednesday’s meeting between Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s powerful chief of staff, and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruni Rodriguez, as a big old nothingburger — even though it was the highest-level contact between the countries in … well, I don’t know how long.
"They talked about Haiti," said departmental spokesman P.J. Crowley during this afternoon’s press conference. "In particular, she did meet with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to ensure that our assistance is consistent with the priorities established by the Haitian Government. Cuba has volunteered, I think, in the significant assistance in the health sector, and they want to see — make sure that this assistance is implemented in a coordinated fashion. So it was a specific meeting about Cuba’s — the support that they wish to provide to Haiti."
"[W]e don’t agree with Cuba and Venezuela on very much, but we all agree on the importance of assistance to Haiti," Crowley said.
Asked whether Mills brought up human rights, Crowley responded: "[W]e do have regular meetings with Cuba in the context of migration talks and specific issues, like postal services."
"When we do have discussions with Cuba, we always bring up the issue of human rights, we always bring up our concerns about prisoners who are held there," he continued. "And in this particular case, we did. I’m aware of that the specific issue of Alan Gross came up. I just don’t know if the broader issues were touched on as well." (Gross is the USAID contractor who was arrested in Havana late last year and accused of espionage.)
Some people will see this development as a sign that Obama is stepping up his engagment with the Cuban regime, but I strongly doubt it. Just last week, the president ripped the Cuban government for using a "clenched fist" — a reference to his inaugural address — against "those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans.” A Cuban journalist who is calling for the release of the country’s political prisoners is said to be near death after a hunger strike that has stretched longer than a month, and the regime has just brutally cracked down on a dissident group calling itself Las Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White. The timing is awful for any sort of attempt to cozy up to the Castro brothers, and I’m sure the Obama folks know it.
More broadly, there’s not much political upside in trying to engage the Cuban regime, given the entrenched opposition to any kind of rethink of the decades-long failure of U.S. Cuba policy on Capitol Hill. Nobody in Congress is laying down any political cover for Obama on this issue, so the odds are long that the administration would make the first move. If anything, U.S.-Cuba relations are heading south.
The only bright spot here would be if the Cubans seriously engaged on Gross — which U.S. officials say they haven’t done thus far. But Crowley gave no details on that front, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.
Scoop: Turkey and Hungary Not Invited to Biden’s Big Democracy Summit
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
Skilled Migrants Aren’t Interested in Germany
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
Russia’s Disinformation Machine Has a Middle East Advantage