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    PRESIDENT OBAMA’S HISTORIC VISIT
    Air Date: March 20, 2016

    For the first time since Calvin Coolidge visited Cuba in 1928, a U.S. President is making a trip to the Caribbean island nation. This three day trip is designed to normalize relations with our old cold war foe. ABC’s Jim Avila reports from Havana: “It was just over a year ago that we broke the news that President Obama wanted to change the way the United States and Cuba treated each other, and he wanted to personally visit Havana. Finally, that day has come for the historic visit by President Obama.”

    In a taped segment that aired during the Good Morning America broadcast on March 20, two days before President Obama visited the country, Reneo Consulting’s Scott Gilbert discusses profound changes in Cuba since the December 2014 declaration of normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

    See entire segment here.

    Source: http://abcnews.go.com/topics/entertainment/tv/good-morning-america.htm

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    Published by Bloomberg on March 18, 2016. Written by Ezra Fieser and Mike Dorning.

    President Barack Obama’s bid to crack open Cuba to U.S. businesses will take a big step forward next week when he becomes the first sitting president to step on Cuban soil in more than eight decades. Just don’t expect U.S. companies to follow en masse any time soon.

    More than a year after Obama and President Raul Castro announced a diplomatic thaw, many U.S. investors remain wary of an economy hobbled by a five-decade-old U.S. trade embargo, restrictive Cuban labor laws and a dual currency system. Companies that have or want to invest, like JetBlue Airways Corp., Carnival Corp. and Airbnb Inc., are more the exception than the rule.

    “Firms just find it very difficult and don’t want to put a lot of money in,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington who has written about normalizing ties with Cuba.

    For starters, how do you pay your workers in Castro’s Communist economy? Nearly all foreign companies on the island pay a labor agency or Cuban-majority partner their workers’ salaries in convertible pesos, which are pegged to the dollar. But the workers receive their average $26 monthly salary in an entirely different currency: non-convertible pesos, worth 1/25th as much. The government pockets the difference.

    While Castro’s government said in 2013 that it would seek to unify the currencies, little has happened. It’s a tough problem to fix, one that Moody’s Investors Service called the Cuban government’s “single most important macroeconomic challenge.”

    “It’s the difference between making money and not making money,” Hufbauer said.

    Joint Ventures

    Second, most foreign companies allowed to enter Cuba have been limited to a 49 percent ownership ceiling, with a state-owned company holding the majority stake. Under joint ventures, it is the state-owned company that hires and pays the workers, meaning that foreign investors have little say in hiring their own workforce.

    And who is behind that state-owned company? In many cases it is Luis Alberto Rodriguez, a general in the Revolutionary Armed Forces who oversees a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies. He’s also Raul Castro’s son-in-law.

    While small businesses like hair salons and taxi driving are open to private entrepreneurs, big-money industries, including much of the hospitality sector, are often under Rodriguez’s control. His Grupo de Administracion Empresarial runs companies that account for half of the business revenue produced in Cuba, according to Omar Everleny Perez, a professor at the University of Havana and a researcher at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

    Human Rights

    Cuba also has the worst record on human rights in the Americas, according to the Washington-based Freedom House, and the government’s strong-arm tactics have gone beyond cracking down on local dissidents. Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian, who built a business selling automobiles and industrial equipment in Cuba, was arrested in 2011 and accused of spying.

    Yacoubian spent two years in jail before being convicted after a two-day trial of corruption and doing economic damage to the government. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $7.5 million before being released in 2014 after having all his assets confiscated.

    Finally, there is the infrastructure. Cuba’s crumbling roads and antiquated ports prompted the World Bank to rank it 152nd out of 160 countries, placing it between Yemen and Sudan, on its logistics performance index, which takes into account infrastructure and other factors that affect trade efficiency.

    Undoubtedly much has changed in recent years. Direct mail between the U.S. and Cuba has been reestablished, Castro has eased travel restrictions and foreign companies are being encouraged to invest in free trade zones as the the island diversifies away from traditional allies like Venezuela. Unilever Plc. in January announced plans to return to Cuba with a $35 million soap and shampoo factory in Mariel, a port city west of Havana. Under that deal, Unilever will own a 60 percent stake in the venture.

    Tourist Visits

    Moody’s said the opening with the U.S. and the island’s decreasing dependence on Venezuela have improved its economic outlook. One factor: tourist visits have surged since the rapprochement, many of them by Americans traveling to Havana from third countries like Canada and The Bahamas. Obama’s March 20-22 trip, followed by a free concert by the Rolling Stones, will only help fuel that enthusiasm.

    One historic comparison to Obama’s two-day visit is President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to Beijing, which paved the way for stronger economic relations with China. Vietnam is another good example, said Hufbauer.

    Both countries found a way to ease economic restrictions to fuel greater prosperity, without giving up total political control.

    “As the Cubans get comfortable with it, they will do more and more,” Hufbauer said, citing tourism, agriculture and medical services as key investment opportunities. “Given the geography and the cultural proximity, in 10 years it should be a very different relationship.”

    Yet outside of Cuba, the biggest barrier to normalizing ties is beyond Obama’s power to remove: the embargo. Only Congress can do that, and the Republican majority has blocked any attempt to do so.

    “The situation today is light years ahead of where it was a decade or even five years ago,” said Scott Gilbert, managing director of Reneo Consulting LLC, who in 2014 negotiated the release of Alan Gross, a jailed U.S. contractor. “The thing is, we are operating with legislation that really does cripple the ability for full U.S. trade and investment with Cuba.”

    Until that too crumbles, what separates Cuba from the U.S. will continue to be much more than the 90 miles of the Florida Straits.

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    Air Date: February 18, 2016

    Scott Gilbert was featured on Stand Up! with Pete Dominick, a SiriusXM radio show hosted by stand-up comedian and politics enthusiast Pete Dominick and produced by Alfred Schulz, Melanie Starling, and Chris Hauselt. The interview discussed U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement regarding his scheduled visit to Cuba on March 21-22. President Obama will become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba in 88 years.

    In an interview with StandUp! guest host Josh Zepps of HuffPostLive, Mr. Gilbert discusses the Obama Administration’s substantial efforts to reverse more than half a century of myopic and demonstrably failed U.S. foreign policy, likening the historic impact of President Obama’s scheduled visit to the enthusiastic way that the people of West Berlin embraced President Kennedy in 1963.

    The focus of the three-hour SiriusXM Insight program each day ranges from current events, politics, environmental issues, veterans affairs to parenting.

    Listen to the segment below.


    Source: http://standupwithpetedominick.com/

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    Published by The Litigation Daily on February 3, 2016. Written by Jenna Greene. 

    At first glance, Scott Gilbert seems an unlikely champion to win freedom for Americans held prisoner by hostile foreign governments.

    A star insurance litigator known for his penchant for motorcycles and rock and roll, Gilbert has helped blue-chip clients recover more than $50 billion in coverage disputes with their insurance carriers.

    Although he spent more than two decades at big firms—Covington & Burling, then Dickstein Shapiro—before founding his own shop, Gilbert LLP, he’s never held a government post or worked as a diplomat.

    What Gilbert can do—masterfully—is negotiate settlements. It’s a skill he drew on, for example, to co-draft the landmark Wellington agreement creating a special centerto handle asbestos claims.

    That same talent helped him broker a deal in late 2014 for the release of Alan Gross, a former U.S. AID worker who was held prisoner in Cuba for crimes against the state. And it led the family of Amir Hekmati to hire Gilbert to get the ex-Marine home from Iran, where he was imprisoned as a spy.

    On Jan. 16, Hekmati and three other Americans held captive in Iran were released in a prisoner exchange.

    Gilbert spoke to The Lit Daily about his role in the cases, and how his practice has evolved.

    The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

    Litigation Daily: How did you come to represent Amir Hekmati, a U.S.-born former Marine who traveled to Iran to visit his grandmother, where he was promptly arrested and charged with spying?

    Scott Gilbert: We were contacted in June of 2015 by some individuals who had observed the work we did for Alan Gross with the U.S. government in Cuba in obtaining his release and serving as a facilitator for the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba. They called me looking for some strategic advice with respect to Amir’s situation.

    We talked to Amir’s sister, Sara Hekmati, who asked us if we would represent the family and get involved to secure Amir’s release from Iran. As we had done with Alan Gross, we agreed to do it on a pro bono basis and got involved immediately in dealing with the U.S. government.

    It involved meetings with senior officials at the Department of Justice, the State Department and within the White House and the NSC. We had frequent meetings, phone calls, provided our views and some advice, and really wanted to make sure that the U.S. government understood the importance of this, maintained it as a priority and was pursuing negotiations that we felt were viable and likely to lead to a positive outcome. We were successful in that effort, and would express great gratitude to the people in the Obama administration who tirelessly worked on this to free Amir and these other Americans.

    LD: Did you work with any of the lawyers representing other imprisoned Americans? Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, for example, represented Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

    SG: We did not. When I first got involved, my instinct was to reach out and try to talk to the lawyers or others who were representing at least two of the other prisoners. Once I got a good feel for the situation and Amir’s factual case, I determined frankly that if there was an attractive victim, I really felt Amir was the best example of that, and there would be no benefit to him in our working closely with these other entities.

    It was pretty clear from the outset of our involvement that the Washington Post, for Jason, their strategy was largely to push Iran and to try to create tension in terms of Jason’s situation. While that didn’t trouble me, vis à vis Amir I didn’t think it was a particularly effective strategy, and not one that we wanted to pursue. The strategy that was pursued by Saeed [Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor] similarly was directed at Iran and trying to convince them to release these prisoners.

    We knew from experience that wouldn’t happen, there would have to be a deal, there ultimately would have to be a trade. We wanted to work that quietly behind the scenes. That’s what we did.

    The government confirmed for me during my first meeting, because it was one of my first questions, that one of these prisoners would not be going home without the other. As a negotiating matter and a U.S. political matter, it really wasn’t viable to have one of them return while the other two remained in prison in Iran. I knew that if we were successful on behalf of Amir in pursuing this approach and encouraging the U.S. government and helping them in terms of a negotiating strategy, that negotiation would encompass everybody by definition. There was no benefit that I perceived in affiliating with the other prisoners publicly, and on a private basis, we had a very different strategy than they did.

    LD: What is your response to people who worry that doing a trade might encourage others abroad to abduct or imprison Americans? What does history tell us?

    SG: History tells us that since the 1960s, the United States has done more than a dozen trades to obtain the return of American citizens. We’ve traded more than 40 foreign prisoners to other nations or groups. This is not a novelty by any means. One of our most conservative presidents, someone revered by conservatives who have criticized President Obama [for the trade], is President Reagan. He did a very famous trade with the Soviet Union to obtain the return of an American. [Reagan swapped a Soviet spy in exchange for Nicholas Daniloff, a correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.]

    If you look at a country like Israel, that none of us would characterize as being soft on its adversaries, or soft on national security, one of the things Israel is most famous for is doing whatever it takes to bring Israelis home. Not long ago, they traded almost 1,000 prisoners for one Israeli soldier.

    It really is a question of government policy, whether you want to tolerate a situation where you leave Americans imprisoned in a hostile territory, or whether you will do whatever you can to bring them out.

    I believe frankly that the world in which we live in today, the notion that by doing the trade that President Obama just did is going to encourage Iran or other entities to take Americans prisoner because they’ll be able to get back a high-value asset is sort of silly.

    If you look at this trade, the Iranians did demand the release of terrorists. Early in the negotiations, the administration absolutely refused to release those people. So who did President Obama release in the end? He released seven people who were accused of sanctions violations, who today would be violating no law. That’s who we traded back. Is that going to incentivize Iran, so they can get more sanctions violators out of prison? Do we really think that’s what they cared about?

    In this negotiation, which I would point out precedes the Iranian elections in February, which was the reason for its timing, in this negotiated deal, Iran was looking for legitimacy and was looking for economic benefit. It did a humanitarian trade, as it would call it, as part of all of this.

    But the notion that Iran will kidnap Americans in order to trade for the kinds of individuals who were released from prison —at least one of whom doesn’t want to go back to Iran—is silly.

    LD: Have you had a chance to meet with Amir?

    SG: I have not met Amir in person. I’ve talked to him a number of times, and met his family. I expect we’ll get together in the next couple of weeks. As was the case with Alan and people who return from these situations, Amir needs some space and some time to be with his family, to start to get his life back.

    LD: How did you come to represent Alan Gross?

    SG: About four years ago, we were asked by [Williams & Connolly] and also some prominent members of the Jewish community to sit down with [Alan’s wife] Judy Gross and talk to her about whether the Gross family might have viable claims against the government contractor with whom Alan worked and the U.S. government.

    We ended up having to file litigation against the contractor, the U.S. government and the contractor’s insurance companies in different lawsuits. We went through various mediations and resolved those matters. In the course of that, I got to know Judy Gross extremely well. I also got to know Alan. I went to Havana a number of times to visit him in prison to talk about his strategy as well as to have him sign court-related documents.

    Toward the middle of that representation, the Gross family switched lawyers. Then about nine months to a year later, they asked me if I’d be willing to represent Alan and get him out of Cuba. I said that I would, and we’d do it pro bono. That was about a year and a half before Dec. 17, 2014, when we brought him home.

    LD: How is Alan doing?

    SG: I saw Alan and Judy Gross two nights ago for dinner. Alan is doing quite well. His favorite pastime in Washington is to go for very long walks, including in the recent winter weather we’ve had here. And when I say long, I mean eight or 10 miles. Alan will smoke a cigar and take a walk and enjoy his freedom. To be able to walk without hitting a wall in your room is something that we take for granted. It was something he fantasized about during his five years in prison.

    Judy is doing well. And I’m pleased to say they’re both about to become first-time grandparents in about a week. I would visit Alan monthly in Havana and we would sit in the small room that we were allowed to be in together, for many hours at a time, day after day. I would talk about what would happen when we got him out, what he would do, how his life would go. I’m very pleased to see him living it fully.

    LD: Do you continue to be involved in Cuba-related matters?

    SG: I go to Cuba at least once a month for three or four days. I continue to serve as a facilitator between the Cuban and U.S. governments, although increasingly, they’re doing quite a good job of that themselves. The need for a marriage counselor, as it were, is becoming less.

    Most of my involvement now has been to advise or represent entities that want to do business in Cuba. The regulations promulgated by [the Office of Foreign Assets Control] are being broadened, and they’re really geared largely toward selling U.S. products to Cuba. The major problem with that is that Cuba doesn’t have money to pay for U.S. products, and it’s got an ailing economy.

    The projects we’re involved in are looking at this from the other side—projects that will increase travel to Cuba, increase Cuba’s capacity to deal with travelers, increase investment in Cuba and increase exports from Cuba—all of which is intended to bring more capital and dollars into Cuba to stimulate their economy and encourage more private entrepreneurship and investment by Cuban entities. It’s a very exciting time, and there’s a lot of interest within both countries in moving these kinds of projects forward.

    In addition to Alan and Amir, we got another person out of Cuba during the fall of 2015. The individual has not talked to the press at all, and we haven’t publicized it. He served 15 years in prison in Cuba of a 25-year sentence.

    LD: How have the skills you developed over the years as a lawyer and a litigator been relevant to these new undertakings?

    SG: I found as a relatively young lawyer at Covington, where I spent 18 years, that the skill sets I developed, the abilities I had, could be applied in a variety of substantive areas. Each of us is a package. We have great positives, all of us have negatives, and the key is to try to maximize your positives and minimize your negatives in order to be effective.

    It was pretty evident to me during my involvement in the Wellington agreement negotiations, the asbestos claims facility, that my greatest strength lies in strategic analysis, and on the negotiation side. [I’ve] applied that in the insurance area, in the mass torts area, and the firm has been involved in a variety of other areas.

    I learned as a young lawyer, ironically, that the greatest detriment of being well-known in a particular area is that everybody slots you into that. Even though you could apply the same approaches in something else, people will say, “That’s the insurance lawyer” or ‘“This is the securities lawyer.” In some ways, it’s very limiting.

    It’s been refreshing and fun to be able to apply the same kind of skill sets in other areas. Some of those we do for corporate clients, and some we do on the pro bono side. About two years ago, we created a consulting firm that is owned by Gilbert called Reneo. Translated from Latin, it means to untangle or to resolve. We do a variety of work, the minority of it being insurance-related. Much of our Cuba work is done through Reneo now.

    LD: Why make it a separate entity? Why not do it as part of the law firm?

    SG: One, I wanted to emphasize the fact that Reneo is not insurance-centric. Our firm really has an international reputation as an insurance boutique. I didn’t want to dilute that. So I created a consulting firm that would be doing work that was much more diverse than insurance or liability strategic analysis and advice.

    The second is that since I began practicing law, I’ve heard from clients and others about the problems associated with hourly billing. At Gilbert, we do a lot of creative fee arrangements, we’re responsive to client needs in those regards, but fundamentally, we’re a firm where the majority of our work is billed and paid by the hour. In the end, most clients, no matter what people say about alternatives, seem to be comfortable with those kinds of barometers.

    I wanted to create an entity where hourly billing is not an option. Reneo does not bill by the hour. Clients at Reneo are on fixed-fee arrangements, or they will pay essentially a contingency: if Reneo doesn’t solve your problem, don’t pay us anything, and if we solve it, here’s the agreed-upon fee. I wanted to experiment and see if it was possible in this marketplace to create an entity that could operate on that basis with no exceptions for hourly rates. Reneo has been successful in that regard. Clients appreciate it, because the fees are very result-oriented. For us, it’s a fee that represents the value that we add.

    I will say I think that it’s much harder on the service provider than on the client to figure out what an appropriate fee is, and not guess wrong.

    Reneo technically is a law firm, it is affiliated with Gilbert, so we clear all conflicts together. Reneo is subject to all the same ethical rules as Gilbert is, but it operates differently.

    LD: Is it hard going back to doing bread-and-butter insurance work after you’ve done things like winning people’s freedom from prison and helping bring about historic changes in international relations?

    SG: No. The level at which I’m able to work in the insurance area and otherwise is not necessarily the same level that I worked at 15 or 20 years ago. At Gilbert, I know every case that we’re involved in, and I become personally involved where I’ll add value for the client. If we’re doing work where I will not add particular value, there’s no point in a client involving me or paying my rate. I’m there, I’m on tap, I’m available. The work that I’m doing in these cases is interesting and very strategic. It’s dealing directly with clients in management and their boards of directors.

    My dealings with insurers are long-term. I have relationships in the insurance industry that go back two or three decades. I enjoy dealing with those people. Many of these adversaries are friends of mine.

    Most importantly, where I as an individual have always obtained the greatest gratification, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career, is in resolving problems. Whether that problem is trying to bring two nations together or bring two companies together or keep a company alive through a major catastrophic crisis, the stakes are high. When you resolve the problem, there’s a feeling a satisfaction that I think can’t be duplicated.

    I couldn’t ask for a different career. I’m now in my 60s, and my wife asked me recently if I ever thought I would retire. I looked at her—Why would I do that? What is that? I’m having a lot of fun, and we’re obtaining the right outcomes. Why would you ever stop? I’ve been very, very lucky.

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    Air Date: January 20, 2016

    Scott Gilbert was featured on Stand Up! with Pete Dominick, a SiriusXM radio show hosted by stand-up comedian and politics enthusiast Pete Dominick and produced by Alfred Schulz, Melanie Starling, and Chris Hauselt. The interview discussed the agreement that the U.S. government made with the Iranian government to free four Americans, and a fifth prisoner in a separate deal, from Iran’s infamous Evin Prison on January 16, 2016. Mr. Gilbert discusses his involvement with the Hekmati family in dealing with Amir’s imprisonment and recent release, and the impact of this diplomatic effort as Iran takes steps to come to the world table and be more involved economically.

    The focus of the three-hour SiriusXM Insight program each day ranges from current events, politics, environmental issues, veterans affairs to parenting.

    “Our last guest was the DC-based attorney and founder & president of Reneo Consulting, LLC, Scott D. Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert worked with Cuban and U.S. officials to secure the release of American aid worker Alan Gross last year, and now his client Amir Hekmati has been released from 3.5 years in prison thanks to similar work between the U.S. and Iran.”

    Listen to the segment below.

    Source: http://standupwithpetedominick.com/

    “Read the entire blog post here.

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    Air Date: January 7, 2016

    Scott Gilbert was featured for the third time on Stand Up! with Pete Dominick, a SiriusXM radio show hosted by stand-up comedian and politics enthusiast Pete Dominick and produced by Alfred Schulz, Melanie Starling, and Chris Hauselt. The interview discussed what has changed since President Obama’s declaration of normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba on December 14, 2014, including Mr. Gilbert’s assessment of where we stand today. The segment also briefly touched on Guantanamo Bay, and Mr. Gilbert outlined what U.S. companies can and should be doing now to position themselves in Cuba, despite the fact that the trade embargo remains intact. The focus of the three-hour SiriusXM Insight program each day ranges from current events, politics, environmental issues, veterans affairs to parenting.

    Scott D. Gilbert is the Washington D.C.-based attorney and managing director of Reneo Consulting LLC, whose pro bono work on U.S./Cuban relations led to the release of aid worker Alan Gross and has helped de-ice the ocean of political difference between the two countries. He joined Pete this morning to discuss where things are now, one year removed from the moment President Obama began lifting the restrictions on relations and travel to the island nation.”

    Listen to the segment below.


    Source: http://standupwithpetedominick.com/

    Read the entire blog post here.

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    Published by The New York Times on December 16, 2015. Written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

    WASHINGTON — As the anniversary neared of President Obama’s announcement of a historic détente with Cuba, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who was born in Havana and fled with her family to Miami decades ago, gave him a reality check. The policy change had done little to improve life for the Cuban people, she told the president at the White House last week, and had actually made their human rights situation worse.

    Give it time to work, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said the president responded, the strategy has been in place for only a year.

    When he announced last December that he was shattering a half-century of hostility between the United States and Cuba in favor of a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, Mr. Obama conceded that, “Change is hard.” In the 12 months since then, that prediction has been borne out. The normalization process has proceeded in fits and starts, yielding a handful of concrete accomplishments — most notably, the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana shuttered since the Cold War — and lingering difficulties.

    For all the aspirations of a new era in United States-Cuba relations, the reality has been a much more gradual process, still thwarted in many ways by the American embargo and major differences over politics, human rights and property claims.

    Tens of thousands of Cubans have fled the country since the Dec. 17, 2014, announcement of the rapprochement, fearing that the Cuban Adjustment Act, the American law allowing them to obtain residency upon their arrival, will soon be changed. Many Cubans were left sorely disappointed, with little evidence of change on the streets, and even less in the daily lives of those earning paltry salaries and still struggling to find eggs and other staples.

    “We went into this with no illusions that the Cubans were going to radically change their political system overnight, but our belief has been that greater engagement, greater people-to-people ties, greater commercial activity does open up space for the Cuban people,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, who participated in the secret talks that led to the rapprochement. “Part of what we are doing is raising people’s expectations, and that’s appropriate.”

    To critics like Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, the president has fallen far short. They argue that the United States has made valuable concessions to President Raùl Castro over the past year — including removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror, restoring diplomatic ties, and loosening sanctions on travel and business with the island nation — without getting much in return.

    “Despite some low-level agreements the administration trumpets, truly little has ‘progressed’ as it relates to Cuba or everyday Cubans,” Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said through a spokesman. “Repression has risen and has led to more Cubans trying to flee the country under Communist rule, while at the same time little progress has been made on human rights, U.S.-confiscated properties, return of wanted U.S. fugitives and democratic freedoms.”

    But the president sees glimmers of hope in the painstaking work of prying open a half-century’s worth of institutional barricades between the American and Cuban governments, and he has explicitly refused to condition the thaw in relations to specific demands on Mr. Castro’s government. He told Yahoo! News last week that he wanted to visit the island nation during his final year in office and meet with pro-democracy dissidents there, in part to “nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.”

    “We reject this notion that our opening is a form of concession, because the opening is the whole point — we think it’s in our interest to have people traveling down to Cuba and doing business there,” Mr. Rhodes said in an interview. “There’s a natural momentum to these things.”

    The process has already yielded some concrete results, with the number of Americans authorized to travel to Cuba up 50 percent over the last year, a growing private sector in Cuba and two United States telecommunications companies sealing roaming agreements there.

    In April, Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro shook hands and met face to face at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, becoming the first American and Cuban presidents to do so in more than 50 years. They had their first meeting on American soil in September at the United Nations. In between, after marathon negotiations by both governments, the United States and Cuba re-established formal diplomatic relations in July, opening embassies that had long been closed.

    The Treasury and Commerce Departments have acted twice to ease sanctions and allow Americans and Cubans to forge closer personal and business ties, and on Wednesday reached an agreement on commercial flights.

    An environmental cooperation deal was signed last month, and a pilot program to explore restoring direct mail service between the United States and Cuba will soon begin.

    Diplomats have started high-level talks on human rights issues and resolving billions of dollars in claims against Cuba by American citizens and businesses for property seized in the revolution, as well as Cuban counterclaims for more than $150 billion in damages Havana claims to have suffered from the embargo.

    “It was just pure fantasy to think, as it has been for the last 60 years, that the United States could directly shape the nature of the Cuban political system,” said Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba specialist and senior research fellow at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “It feels like we’re getting excited about tiny steps, but those tiny steps, against the backdrop of the thicket of laws and regulations that have produced a ‘no’ as the answer to any question, and now we’re figuring out how to get to ‘yes’ — that’s progress.”

    Still, many obstacles remain, including an overarching concern among the Cuban government and American companies seeking to do business there that their assets will be seized because of outstanding sanctions and provisions of the embargo.

    The Cuban government has resisted many of the economic reforms and other steps that will facilitate such deals, American officials acknowledge, partly out of fear that swift change will wash away the gains of the revolution in a sea of capitalist investment. There is also a worry in Cuba that opening its market to the United States might weaken the pressure on Washington to lift the embargo once and for all.

    “When you stand back and look at this against the backdrop of almost 60 years of complete adversity, complete lack of dialogue, absolute distrust, it’s been a remarkable year,” said Scott D. Gilbert, a Washington-based lawyer who helped negotiate the release of Alan P. Gross, an American imprisoned in Havana, as part of last year’s agreement. “But there is frustration and disappointment on both sides that more deals haven’t gotten done. It’s a process that still needs a lot of work.”

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    Published by USA Today on November 2, 2015. Written by Alan Gomez.

    Part of the promise of this week’s trade show is to teach American business owners how to work with Cuba, starting with something as simple as getting there.

    Alex Procopio, a San Diego-based businessman who has sold food products to Cuba for more than a decade, said he had lined up eight U.S. companies to travel with him to the trade fair. After they struggled to book flights through a complicated charter process and reserve hotel rooms in a country that doesn’t accept U.S.-issued credit cards, he said seven companies dropped out.

    “Cuba is still the forbidden fruit, it’s still that hard-to-get-to island,” Procopio said. “That’s part of its charm.”

    Scott Gilbert said the fair is also an opportunity for U.S. companies to meet Cuban government officials.

    Gilbert is the attorney who helped broker the release of contractor Alan Gross, who was freed after five years in a Cuban prison as part of last year’s deal to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. Gilbert is now advising companies about dealing with the Cubans.

    “Americans who are used to coming into a country and moving things very quickly, they are being fairly assertive and aggressive and finding that doesn’t work well,” he said. “You’ve got to understand their situation, understand the dynamic and try to work within it to do the best that you can.”

    Part of that learning process is finding out what the Cubans want.

    Read the entire article here.”

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    Published by Mother Jones in October 2015. Written by Peter Kornbluh and William M. Leogrande.

    When Gross’ terminally ill, 92-year-old mother, Evelyn, took a severe turn for the worse in late May, negotiations became urgent. Meeting in Ottawa in early June, the Cubans pushed for a quick prisoner trade, expressing their fear that Gross would kill himself when his mother passed away. US officials, meanwhile, worried that if Gross died in a Cuban prison, a change in US policy would become politically impossible.

    Kerry reached out to Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez and proposed a “furlough” to the United States—Gross would wear an electronic bracelet to allow the Cubans to monitor his movements, and he would return to prison after his mother’s death. “Alan promised unequivocally that he would return to incarceration in Cuba after visiting his mother at the hospital in Texas,” his lawyer Scott Gilbert recalls, “and I offered to take his place until he returned. That is how important this was.”

    But the Cubans considered the plan too risky. After Evelyn Gross died on June 18, 2014, Kerry warned Rodrí­guez that if any harm came to Gross while in Cuba’s custody, the opportunity for better relations would be lost.

    Read the entire article here

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