WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cuba’s President Raul Castro and his brother, ex-leader Fidel Castro, have sought to sabotage U.S. moves to improve ties because they fear it will threaten their power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday.
Clinton said Cuba’s response to Obama administration efforts to enhance cooperation revealed “an intransigent, entrenched regime” that had no interest in political reform or ending the isolation imposed by Washington’s 48-year old economic embargo on the island.
“It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do no want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years,” Clinton said
“I find that very sad, because there should be an opportunity for a transition to a full democracy in Cuba and it’s going to happen at some point, but it may not happen any time soon.”
Obama has said he wants to recast ties that have been hostile since soon after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Fidel Castro stepped aside as president last year because of illness, replaced by his younger brother Raul.
The United States has over the past year lifted limits on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to Cuba, and initiated talks with Havana on migration and mail service.
But Obama has said the economic embargo will stay until Cuba improves human rights and frees political detainees, and Clinton said the outlook was not good on either front.
“If you look at any opening to Cuba you can almost chart how the Castro regime does something to try to stymie it,” Clinton said while answering questions at Kentucky’s University of Louisville.
Clinton noted that in 1996, when her husband former President Bill Clinton was seeking to improve ties, Cuba shot down two small U.S. planes that were distributing leaflets. The incident effectively ended that overture.
Over the past year, despite Obama’s willingness to improve ties, Cuba arrested a U.S. contractor on suspicion of espionage while political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 85-day hunger strike in protest against prison conditions, Clinton said.
“It’s a dilemma,” Clinton said. “I hope (they) will begin to change. We’re open to changing with them, but I don’t know that that will happen before some more time goes by.”
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; editing by Philip Barbara