The Obama administration in March asked Pope Benedict XVI to help secure the release of Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who has been jailed in Cuba since December 2009.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters:
We obviously are hopeful that the pope will continue to be strong on all of the human rights issues in Cuba, religious freedom, and it would be a very, very good thing if the Cuban government were to take this opportunity to release Alan Gross. We would be obviously very grateful were the the pope to raise this issue.
Cuban authorities accuse Gross of taking part in U.S.-government regime change programs aimed at subverting Cuba’s socialist government. Gross’ wife, Judy, contends that he was helping Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. She said she hoped the pope would appeal for her husband’s release.
She told NBC:
Alan went to Cuba not knowing that he was doing anything wrong, so a lot of people say, ‘Well, it’s Alan’s fault,’’ his wife said. “They let him through customs, he got receipts for his equipment, nobody informed him that he was breaking any kind of law. So maybe Alan is guilty of being naïve, but I am not even sure that you can go that far.
Also in March, some lawmakers questioned USAID’s budget. U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah:
And lastly, the Obama administration’s policy of concessions towards the Castro brothers has not yielded any measurable change for democracy. And I am deeply concerned about the Department of State’s and USAID’s growing funding for programs that promote the Castro brothers’ sham economic reforms, at the expense of funding for important programs that do support Cuban political prisoners and the growing internal opposition.
Though this administration likes to point Castro’s so-called economic reforms as a sign of change, the fact remains that 11 million Cubans continue to suffer under the brutally conditions of the oppressive Castro regime. And this new focus on economic reforms will do nothing more than validate the Castro regime and promote their radical anti-American propaganda. How does harnessing U.S. foreign assistance to promote the Castro brothers’ sham ‘economic reforms’ build the capacity for the internal opposition? And how can we prioritize the funding for Cuba to strive for a free and democratic Cuba by again funding the pro-democracy programs on the island?
Roundup by Karly Berezowsky