There was something changing — on my more recent visits, people have been publicly talking politics in ways they previously would have done only behind closed doors. Yet with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump now threatening to roll back Obama’s strides in U.S.-Cuba relations, it’s hard to say how many Americans will get to meet this Cuba.
U.S. law stipulates that the U.S. embargo cannot be lifted unless both Castros exit power. Raul Castro says he’ll leave office in 2018. What’s the likelihood of any successor being moderate enough for Trump — or willing to let the real estate mogul near the island’s beachfront property and historic Havana hotels?
Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.
Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.
President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.
Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s 3-day visit to Cuba began Monday, when President Raul Castro greeted the pontiff at the airport of Santiago de Cuba. The arrival was fairly quiet, but the evening Mass in Santiago’s plaza was attended by an estimated 200,000 Cubans. The pope's long-awaited visit attracted news coverage from around the world, mostly focusing in the pope’s message.