Inside the Secret Ottawa Meetings on Cuba

Pope, Canada played key roles in talks that began in June last year
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2014 3:39 AM CST
Updated Dec 18, 2014 3:59 AM CST
Key Players in Cuba Thaw: Pope, Canada
Anti-Castro protester Sisay Barcia, right, argues with Obama supporter Peter Bell, left, in the Little Havana area of Miami last night.   (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

The historic thaw in US-Cuba relations didn't happen overnight, but came after more than a year of secret talks that had already been going on for months when President Obama caused a stir by shaking Raul Castro's hand at Nelson Mandela's funeral last year. Insiders tell Bloomberg that at least seven high-level meetings were held in Ottawa starting in June 2013. The Canadian capital was seen as an ideal meeting place because of the country's close ties to both Cuba and the US, although the Canadians didn't take part in the talks. Pope Francis—the first-ever pontiff from Latin America—also played a key role. He pushed both sides to talk to each other and reportedly hosted the final negotiation session at the Vatican. More:

  • The US spy freed as part of the deal that saw American aid worker Alan Gross released has been identified by Newsweek as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a former cryptographer in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence who was sentenced to 25 years after being arrested for spying for the US in 1995. Trujillo is believed to have exposed several long-running Cuban espionage operations before he was caught, including the "Cuban Five," whose remaining three members were exchanged for him.

  • The US hasn't named Trujillo as the released spy, but US officials say he was one of the most important assets the US ever had in Cuba and his release was a major priority, reports the Washington Post. "Information provided by this person was instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States and ultimately led to a series of successful federal espionage prosecutions," a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence says.
  • American lawmakers had mixed reactions to the shift, and Reuters found a similar split in Miami's Little Havana. "This is a new beginning, a dream come true for the 11.2 million Cubans in Cuba, and I think it will provoke a change of mentality here, too, in this community," says a magazine publisher who came to the US in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Others on the streets, however, made their feelings of betrayal evident with shouts like "Obama communista!"
(More Cuba stories.)

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