Hillary Clinton to Visit Cuba in Coming Weeks?
|Photo via U.S. State Department website|
To top it all off, there are rumors that an upper-echelon U.S. official could be headed to Cuba in the next week or two to push for the release of Alan Gross, an American citizen arrested for purportedly handing out $5,000 satellite phones like they were Halloween candies.
Could it be Hillary Clinton herself?
"If the White House approves it, a top-level State Department official could soon be headed to Cuba to deal with the Alan Gross situation," says Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.
"You now this person. You've heard of this person. If they get approval, they will be in Havana in the next few weeks," says Gomez, who would not divulge the official's name because the trip has not been finalized.
Could it be Clinton? Possible, but unlikely. Earlier this month, she did admit, however, that her office had already been pushing for Gross's release.
"Our government works every single day through every channel for his release and safe return home," Clinton told Jewish-American groups in Washington D.C., according to the Associated Press. Gross is a government contractor for U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. Gross's wife, Judy, attended the event.
"Alan was providing information and technology that would assist this community to be better connected," Clinton said.
But if someone from the State Dept. does head to Havana in the near future, it's unlikely to be Clinton, says Michael Shifter, President of the Inter-American Dialogue. To start, it would mark a significant break in U.S. policy over a seemingly small fish in Alan Gross.
"To date, the highest official to visit Cuba has been the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary," Shifter points out. "If the Obama administration really does make a major play it would suggest that Gross sitting in jail is a significant political liability and that any progress in the US-Cuba relations depends on his release."
If anyone from the State Dept. visits Cuba this summer, it would be seen as a sign of progress. President Obama relaxed restrictions on travel to the island shortly after arriving in office. The Cuban government's decision to release the prisoners - 20 of whom have already left the island, including former boxer Ariel Sigler, who arrived in Miami yesterday - seems a tepid if belated response.
It may not be bonhomie between the two countries, but former president of Cuba Fidel Castro has gone so far as to predict the return of the "Cuban Five," alleged spies in jail in the U.S., by the end of the year.
Critics point out, however, that many political prisoners could remain in jail after the release, just under a different name.
"This is the first time Cuba has even admitted it has 'political prisoners,'" says Gomez.