During his three-day trip to Cuba, former President Jimmy Carter
also met with detained American Alan Gross, who was sentenced this
month to 15 years prison for espionage.
Former US President Jimmy Carter aimed to hit all the right
points on a three-day trip to Cuba. He sat with revolutionary icon
Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, and met today with leading Cuban
dissidents, calling attention to the human rights and political
issues that have long been at the center of stalled US-Cuba
But Mr. Carter was unable to resolve a key sticking point between
the Castro regime and Obama administration: the release of jailed US
contractor Alan P. Gross.
While that, in itself, was enough to cast Carter's trip as a
disappointment, analysts say Mr. Gross's release would not likely
have provided the impetus for a major turning point in relations
that were severed 50 years ago.
IN PHOTOS: Cuba's underground economy
"Even if Carter had returned with Alan Gross, I don't think it
would have caused a fundamental shift in relations between the
countries," says Jana Lipman, a professor at Tulane University who
has studied relations between the countries. "The status quo has
been a strong barrier to the improvement of relations between the US
and Cuba for a long time."
Arrested in December 2009 while working on a US government
project, Gross received a 15-year prison sentence earlier this month
for bringing satellite communications equipment to Jewish groups in
Cuba, which the government called espionage.
US-Cuba ties hits snag
Carter met with Gross before leaving the Caribbean island on
Wednesday, yet even ahead of the meeting he sought to dampen
expectations for his release. "I am not here to take him out of the
country," Carter told reporters Tuesday, amid speculation that he
might repeat his successful negotiation in North Korea for the
release of American teacher Aijalon Gomes.
The Obama administration has stated that Gross's release is
necessary before the countries can work on improving relations.
"It's clear that the Obama administration wants to engage with
Cuba. It's their preferred course of action," says Jose Azel, a
Cuban exile and senior scholar at the University of Miami's
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
In 2009, President Obama lifted some restrictions on travel and
the sending of remittances to Cuba, in what his press secretary
called measures intended "to reach out to the Cuban people. …