The year 2010 had registered virtually no improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations. There had been rumors and suggestions for some time that the Obama administration might ease restrictions on, at least, academic and so-called “people-to-people” travel to Cuba. Delays were first attributed to the need to wait until after the November elections – and then, given the disappointing outcome of the elections, there was concern that the administration might not act at all and that 2011 would be as disappointing as 2010.
But then, on the afternoon of January 14, 2011, came the surprise announcement from the White House that restrictions on certain kinds of travel would indeed be eased, that flights to Cuba could go out of additional airfields, not just out of Miami, and that Americans could now send limited remittances to Cuban citizens, provided the latter were not senior members of the Cuban government or Communist Party.
It was perhaps not everything theyhad hoped for, but the January 14 announcement was welcomed by most Cubans, and by Americans who want to see an improvement in relations with Cuba. How had it come about? Probably as the result of movement on both sides. The U.S. had been taking the position that it could not take further steps to improve relations until the case of Alan Gross was resolved – Alan Gross, the USAID contractor arrested in December of 2009. The U.S. insisted that he had committed no crime. The Cubans, on the other hand, noted that he had entered Cuba improperly with a tourist visa and had been distributing highly sophisticated radio equipment without a license. And, Cuban officials had been privately hinting that there would have to be some step toward improvement on the U.S. side before the Gross case could be resolved.
That step seems to have finally come with the January 14 White House announcement described above. Will that now led to a resolution of the Gross case? Perhaps it already has; indeed, that the one took place before the other and we note that the White House announcement came only days after a meeting of U.S. and Cuban delegations in Havana at which, reportedly, the Cubans were “responsive” on the Gross case. We will see what that means, but expectations are that Gross will shortly be released. And if he is, the way may then be clear for significant improvements in U.S.-Cuban relations.