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Cuban Comrades

The Truth About Washington and Havana's New Detente

A child holds a Cuban flag during a concert in Havana, December 20, 2014. Enrique De La Osa / Courtesy Reuters

A year ago, when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro awkwardly shook hands at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, social media erupted with speculation about what the gesture might mean. Most Cuba watchers were skeptical, and they cautioned against reading too much into the encounter. But as Wednesday’s historic announcement of a new direction in U.S.-Cuban policy made clear, sometimes a handshake is more than a just a handshake.

Over the last 18 months, it turns out, U.S. and Cuban officials conducted secret high-level dialogues that were hosted by Canada and the Vatican. At the top of the Americans’ agenda was Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor arrested in Cuba in 2009 for his role in a covert program to increase Internet access on the island. Cuban negotiators, meanwhile, hoped to secure the remaining members of the Cuban Five— intelligence agents who had been

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