The press had been heavily speculating on Bill Richardson's trip to Cuba and the possibility of him pulling off the unlikely, returning with Alan Gross. If Mr. Gross is actually a bargaining chip, as the media portrays him, then Cuba has no reason to release him at this time. Has the US offered anything? In fact, President Obama just renwed the embargo against Cuba. Also, just as Mr. Richarson sat and waited in Havana, the US announced that Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5 who is scheduled to be released in October, will be expected to serve three years of probation in South Florida for no other reason than to be spiteful. The irony is that he will not be able to be around any known terrorists. If he is to serve those years of probation in Miami, the he will more than likely be somewhere near to Luis Posada Carriles, hero of the Miami mafia, and the most notorious terrorist in our hemisphere. I suppose Rene Gonzalez may need to call ahead to make sure that Posada isn't eating in one of the Miami restaurants before he decides to patronize the place!
Bill Richardson, who according to his representatives, was invited to Cuba, certainly had in his mind that he would at the very least get to visit Mr. Gross during his time in Cuba. He was tight lipped in the beginning of his trip, but soon turned to the tactic of trying to pressure Cuba into allowing a visit by making statements to the press referring to Mr. Gross as a "hostage." Also Mr. Richardson decided to announce that he wouldn't leave the island until his demand was met. Bill's blunder was to assume arrogantly that Cuban officials would buckle to his attempts to pressure them. He had to be reminded and explained that Cuba is a sovereign country and is not willing to meet the demands of an attempted blackmail. So he left without Mr. Gross and even without a chance to visit him.
Countless US officials over the decades have repeated the mistake of not treating Cuba with respect. If there is to be any progress at all in creating a new atmosphere for dialogue between the two countries, the US must understand that Cuba is an equally sovereign nation. It is a non-starter to treat Cuba as a lesser nation than the US. Washington may be able to get away with this type of attitude with countries that have governments that are heavily dependent on the folks in Washington, but Cuba isn't one of them. Cuba's independence is total. It would certainly like to have a better relationship with the northern neighbor, but it is only willing to do so as a respected nation. If the people in Washington still, after five decades, haven't figured this out, then it is their own problem to work out. Cuba would benefit from bilateral trade and so would the US. But Cuba has been able to create a descent society which protects individuals in ways that many others haven't, without a relationship with the US.
Until Washington is willing to respect Cuba, the relationship will not progress much. Sooner or later though, someone will come along and decide to do the right thing. It may come from a person with principle or it may be forced upon the leadership in Washington by the business community that is currently sidelined but is itching to become a part of the international community already enjoying doing business with Cuba.
A change in US attitude is much needed.