John McAuliff — Jan 21, 2014
Secretaries of State John Kerry and Archbishop Pietro Parolin (State Department photo)
Will Pope Francis help President Obama to do what he wants to do with Cuba?
Secretary of State Kerry visited the Vatican on January 14th to meet with his counterpart. As reported in the Israeli paper Haaretz, he said:
“We talked also about Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and freedom of, and respect for, human rights,” Kerry told reporters after the meeting.“I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue,” he said.
Apparently it did not occur to reporters to ask how Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin replied. However, Kerry knows that the business of diplomacy is to find mutual benefit and the Vatican could be expected to raise its interest in change of US policy toward Cuba.
The ultras among Cuban Americans panicked, typified by this post on the Babalu Blog by Carlos Eire, author and Professor of History & Religious Studies at Yale University:
How’s this for a scenario?: Pope Francis gets Alan Gross freed in exchange for the four Castro spies, and, on top of that, orchestrates the restoration of US/Castro diplomatic ties, along with the lifting of the embargo. And it will all make Obama look so righteous and compassionate rather than weak, all because of the glow lent to the whole deal by Pope Francis’s halo.Such speculation is not far-fetched. Keep in mind that all of these items are linked together, since Gross is often cited by the Obama administration as the greatest obstacle to “reconciliation.”… And don’t forget the the Vatican has easy access to Raul through the reprehensible boot-licking Cardinal Ortega, who has already proven his mettle as a deal-maker who will screw the Cuban people and –at the same time — make all the screwing look like a holy work of mercy.
Leaving aside Eire’s extremist view about Cardinal Ortega, could he be right about how things might move? Does the President need a Papal request on top of direct appeals by Alan and Judy Gross and a letter from two thirds of the Senate (see previous post here) to overcome the intense hostility of the anti-Cuba lobby? It has just been announced that the President and Pope will meet in the Vatican on March 27th so we probably have to wait two months to see.
Judy Gross added fuel to her fire, targeting both the State Department and the anti-Cuba lobby in Congress just before US and Cuban diplomats met in Havana, as reported in a little noticed article in south Florida’s Sun Sentinel:
However, Judy Gross is frustrated with the lack of help she feels she has not gotten from Washington.Gross said in a statement: “I am angry at the U.S. Government for its lack of response in working toward bringing Alan home. For four years, we have had meeting after meeting with the State Department, and the National Security Council. Each meeting ultimately ended the same way with patronizing comments, with empty promises and ultimately with no action … The White House has refused to speak to me or Alan’s legal team for four years. I didn’t even qualify for a form letter one usually gets after writing to the President.“I do know that there are those in Congress with hatred so strong toward Cuba that they are willing to let Alan rot in prison. This way of thinking has failed to bring Alan home for four years and is a death sentence for Alan. … I urge all South Florida residents to send messages and meet with Senator Marco Rubio, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lethinen and Congressman Mario Dias-Balart. … We need to try something different or Alan will die in prison.”
Cuban American opinion in Florida has shifted to favor more normal relations, leaving Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn out of sync with his pro-engagement city.
Democratic political consultant Derek Newton is not as certain about the potency of South Florida’s anti-Castro hardliners.“The dog isn’t as big as it used to be, but it still bites,” said Newton, who works with the November Group in New York and Miami. Embracing engagement with Cuba is still unpopular, but not necessarily life-threatening, he said and it’s fading fast.“This just isn’t an issue that’s on the front burner, except for a very small, very vocal group,” he said. Plus, die-hard anti-Castro voters tend to be hard-core Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a Democrat like Buckhorn anyway, he said.
Nevertheless Judy’s list illustrate’s that Cuban American elected officials (and fellow traveler Wasserman Schultz), with the notable exception of Rep. Joe Garcia, remain mired in the past, still driven by embittered loss and fantasy of restoration. That characterized the analagous Kuomintang and Saigon/ARVN communities as their leaders desperately tried to prevent US normalization with China and Vietnam. It wasn’t very long afterwards that Tsintao and 333 beer showed up in their restaurants.
Expatriated Cuban Americans cannot define or negotiate bilateral relations between sovereign governments any more than Irish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian or Jewish Americans can, but like other immigrant groups, they will provide important depth to relations after normalization.