By MATTHEW LEE— Jun. 5, 2014 11:05 PM EDT
PARIS (AP) — In her new book, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she pushed President Barack Obama to lift or ease the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba because it was no longer useful to American interests or promoting change on the communist island.
In excerpts of the book "Hard Choices" obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its release next week, Clinton writes that the embargo has given communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse not to enact democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to normalizing relations — "to keep Cuba in a deep freeze" — has hurt both the United States and the Cuban people.
She says the 2009 arrest by Cuba of USAID contractor Alan Gross and Havana's refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds is a "tragedy" for improving ties.
"Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba's economic woes," she writes. She says her husband, former President Bill Clinton, tried to improve relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was determined to continue the effort, she writes.
She says that late in her term in office she urged Obama to reconsider the U.S. embargo. "It wasn't achieving its goals," she writes, "and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. ... I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive."
Clinton writes that in the face of "a stone wall" from the Castro regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.
"We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of the outside world," she says.
The steps that Obama took, including allowing more travel to the island and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the island, have had a positive effect, she writes.
However, Clinton notes with disappointment that Cuba arrested and imprisoned Gross, a contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who the U.S. says was trying to help Cuba's small Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world. Gross was convicted of trying to subvert the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Despite repeated appeals from the U.S., Gross remains in prison in Cuba.
In the book, Clinton says she spoke out frequently about Gross' imprisonment and was disappointed that "the Castros created new problems by arresting" him.
She said Cuba has refused to consider Gross' release until the U.S. frees all of the "Cuban Five" spies who have been imprisoned in the United States. The U.S. has rejected Cuba's demands to link the cases.
Clinton said she suspected that some in Cuba are using the Gross case "as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with the United States and the domestic reforms that would require."
"If so," she writes, "it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well."