Well, this was inevitable. The case of Assata Shakur affords the US political right the opportunity to take a hit at Obama's opening to Cuba while simultaneously getting subliminal licks in at the Black Lives Matter protests. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was of course the first to grandstand about it, demanding that Cuba turn over the veteran Black Panther he called "Joanne Chesimard" (her former name) before diplomatic ties are restored. He wrote in an open letter to Obama: "If, as you assert, Cuba is serious about embracing democratic principles [sic] then this action would be an essential first step." Cuba, of course, said no dice. Asked if returning fugitives was on the table, Havana's head of North American affairs Josefina Vidal told the AP, "Every nation has sovereign and legitimate rights to grant political asylum to people it considers to have been persecuted… That's a legitimate right."
In a surprise move, Cuban president Raúl Castro and US president Barack Obama announced in separate television appearances on Dec. 17 that their two countries were now working to renew diplomatic relations, which the US broke off nearly 54 years earlier, in January 1961, under former president Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961). The two countries were releasing a total of 58 prisoners in the agreement, officials said, and the US will loosen some restrictions on contacts with Cuba by US residents; however, the US government's 52-year-old embargo against trade with Cuba will remain in effect.
US president Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the US would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was "an historic triumph for the society and the government of the island," the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada asserted in an editorial the next day. "[T]he hostility converted into Washington's government policy has arrived at its end—although the repeal of the blockade laws is still pending—and this occurred without Havana's having made any concession in its political and economic model." The paper added that the policy change demonstrated "the correctness of the position of the Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for an end to the official US hostility to Cuba." (LJ, Dec. 18)
On Dec. 17, less than a week after the Associated Press reported on a failed effort by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists, agency administrator Rajiv Shah announced that he was leaving his post in February. Shah's announcement came the same day as news that the US was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba and that the Cuban government had released imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross. Shah didn't give a reason for his resignation but said he had "mixed emotions." In a statement released that day US president Barack Obama said Shah, who has headed the USAID since December 2009, "has been at the center of my administration's efforts to advance our global development agenda." (AP, Dec. 17)
In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.
On Oct. 1 the National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based research organization, published declassified US government documents about secret contingency plans that the administration of former US president Gerald Ford (1974-1977) made in 1976 for a possible military attack on Cuba. Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger called for the plans in response to Cuba's decision in late 1975 to send troops to support the left-leaning government of Angola against rebels funded by South Africa and the US; he was furious that Cuba had defied the US after a round of secret negotiations he had sponsored in 1975 aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries.
From October 2009 to some time in 2011 the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored a program that paid almost a dozen youths from Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela to travel to Cuba in order to obtain intelligence information and identify potential government opponents among students and other youths, according to an investigation that the Associated Press (AP) wire service published on Aug. 4. The revelation comes four months after AP reported on the agency's ZunZuneo "Cuban Twitter" program. Like ZunZuneo, the program employed the Washington, DC-based private contractor Creative Associates International for operations. Analysts said these revelations indicate that the US is losing interest in the older generation of Cuban dissidents and is trying to develop opposition among younger Cubans.
An Israeli military offensive on the Palestinian territory of Gaza starting on July 8 has brought widespread condemnation from governments and activists in Latin America. The response to the current military action, which is codenamed "Operation Protective Edge," follows a pattern set during a similar December 2008-January 2009 Israeli offensive in Gaza, "Operation Cast Lead," when leftist groups and people of Arab descent mounted protests and leftist and center-left governments issued statements sharply criticizing the Israeli government.