Cuba and America

April 17, 2009 2:05:14 PM PDT
There's a school of thought that it was the U.S. that drove a young guerrilla-turned-revolutionary-turned-government leader named Fidel Castro into the political arms of Nikita Khrushchev and the then Soviet Union.

Castro was, after all, something of a fan of American democracy as he and his band of rebels fought and overthrew the corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Eve, 1959. And some Cuban experts have long believed that Castro wanted very much to remain trading partners with the U.S. after the overthrow.

But when he took action against the Mafia and giant American corporations, the U.S. power structure objected, in the form of a blockade and a trade embargo. The Russians were only too happy to step in and offer comfort, in the form of money and goods and military protection.

The brunt of the tragedy that followed was shouldered by the Cuban people. While Castro brought them health care and literacy, he could not guarantee them economic stability and growth.

And so many Cubans who left lost contact with their family members who stayed on the island.

It is clear, judging by the actions of President Obama, that he is bent on dramatically changing the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. Earlier this week the Administration loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to and communicating with relatives in the homeland.

Now, there are strong indications that the White House will go further.

A couple of big developments today: The head of the Organization of American States said he wants to re-admit Cuba, 47 years after it was expelled from the group. And Secretary of State Clinton offered what's being described as a "warm response" to Raul Castro's comments that "everything" is on the table in terms of negotiations with the U.S., including questions about human rights and political prisoners in Cuba.

"We welcome his comments, the overture they represent and we are taking a very serious look at how we intend to respond," said Secretary Clinton.

And late this afternoon, aboard Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that the strongest U.S. reaction is "the admission by Castro that (he) might well have been wrong" about political prisoners and "skimming money off the top of remittance payments as they come back to the Cuban island."

Tonight, Mr. Obama will talk about Cuba in his remarks during the opening ceremony at the Summit of the Americas.

It's a big deal. It's sure to rankle the feathers of anti-Castro hardliners; but it's also sure to please those who have long argued it's time to open relations with the tiny island. We'll have the latest on any new developments, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, what a homecoming underway in the small Vermont town of Underhill for its most famous resident -- Richard Phillips, the brave captain of the Maersk Alabama ship that was hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. He managed to get his crew to safety, in exchange for the pirates taking him hostage. We know the dramatic rescue that followed, with Navy Seals killing three of the pirates and rescuing Phillips. We'll have the latest on his welcome home tonight.

And Tappy Phillips tonight has the story of a young businesswoman who moved out of her Brooklyn apartment and expected to get her security deposit back in a few weeks.

She waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally she called Tappy, and got 7 On Your Side.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's stunning AccuWeather forecast, and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.

BILL RITTER


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