December roundup

1-1-IMG_1222-copyJailed contractor Alan Gross asked the U.S. government to sign a “non-belligerency pact” with Cuba as a first step toward negotiating his release, according to a Cuba specialist who met with the American development worker.
Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba expert at the National Security Archives, a nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C., met with Gross on Nov. 28 at the Havana military hospital where he is being held, NBC News reported first on Dec. 3. Kornbluh said Gross urged his government to “step up” and negotiate with Cuba.

He’s angry, he’s frustrated, he’s dejected. His message is that the United States and Cuba have to sit down and have a dialogue without preconditions. … He told me that the first meeting should result in a non-belligerency pact being signed between the United States and Cuba.

The blog On Two Shores said the contractor’s predicament highlights contradictions in U.S. policy toward Cuba. In a post entitled, “Alan Gross reduced to try to formulate a rational Cuba policy from prison…since his own government isn’t,” the blog stated:

Nobody can blame Gross for feeling abandoned by his government, although a solution to his case has been a constant demand of the State Department… What’s ridiculous is how we got to this point, with a slew of inefficient and dangerous programs put in place to placate a small but vocal minority and their representatives in Congress. As a result we have a desperate prisoner stating the obvious: a policy of confrontation is only likely to result in more confrontation.

Longtime critics of Cuba’s socialist government urged U.S. officials to refrain from negotiating with Cuba and tighten regulations making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba on licensed “people-to-people” programs. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said:

The Obama Administration should abandon its failed policy of providing unilateral concessions to the Castro dictatorship in the form of expanded travel, increased remittances, and the granting of U.S. visas to high-level regime operatives. It is time for the Administration to stop appeasing the Castro dictatorship and its egregious human rights record, and immediately cease the channeling of U.S. currency to the Cuban people’s oppressors.

Funny how Diaz-Balart didn’t mention the U.S. embargo – the most severe, longest-lasting economic sanctions ever imposed on any nation, part of a strategy aimed at starving Cubans into submission. Nor did the lawmaker suggest eliminating discriminatory U.S. policies that allow only Cuban-Americans – but not all Americans – to travel freely to Cuba.
No matter, the Washington Post backed Diaz-Balart and other hardliners in an editorial urging the Obama administration to “consider new steps to punish the Castro regime for the continued imprisonment of Mr. Gross” rather than negotiate for the American’s release. The newspaper wrote:

Better relations between Cuba and the United States must be conditioned on real steps toward democratization by Havana. But until Mr. Gross is released, they ought to get worse.

The State Department on Dec. 2 asked Cuba to release Alan Gross, an American development worker who was arrested while carrying out a U.S. government-financed democracy program in Cuba. Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said:

Tomorrow Alan Gross will begin his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world.
Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries.
Since his arrest, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from severe degenerative arthritis that affects his mobility, and other health problems. His family is anxious to evaluate whether he is receiving appropriate medical treatment, something that can best be determined by having a doctor of his own choosing examine him.
We continue to ask the Cuban Government to grant Alan Gross’s request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue.
The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.

Phil Peters, creator of the Cuban Triangle blog, said Toner’s statement “doesn’t acknowledge the new appeals being made by Mr. Gross and his team. Reading it, you wouldn’t even get the idea that Mr. Gross is our guy, i.e. a U.S. government operative attempting to escape detection in Cuba. Instead, he is once again portrayed as a lifelong international humanitarian who was ‘simply facilitating communications.'”

…I’ll just say once again that this seems much more like a defense of the USAID program than an attempt to secure Mr. Gross’ release.
Only in the case of Cuba are the U.S. programs built on an explicit regime-change premise contained in the 1996 Helms-Burton law. We can like or dislike the law, and we can like or dislike the Cuban political system, but we can’t avoid the operational consequence: a program like that is going to be hard to operate within Cuba if the Cuban government cares about its own survival and if it cares to defend Cuban sovereignty. As Mr. Gross found out too late, it cares about both.

A former security director for the U.S. Agency for International Development said it was “imprudent and cavalier” for the U.S. government to send Gross to Cuba on a risky Internet project. On Dc. 3, Ed Lee wrote:

As a former director of security at USAID, I must strongly suggest that somewhere, amidst the agency’s massive file system, electronic or otherwise, there is a written threat assessment that documents the level of risk of sending Mr. Gross to Cuba to set up Internet access for Cuba’s Jewish community and the possible repercussions, including imprisonment. If USAID never assessed the potential threat to Gross in writing if he implemented the project on Cuban soil, they clearly should have. If I had been director of security of USAID in 2009, I would have strongly recommended against such a project, particularly in Cuba. Anywhere else in the world would have been fine, but clearly NOT in Cuba.

Gross was a subcontractor for Development Alternatives Inc., which was carrying out a contract for USAID in Cuba. Lee compared the Gross case to Iran’s jailing of three American hikers – Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal. A State Department team helped secure the hikers’ release in 2011, but the Obama administration has used “no political clout” to free Alan Gross. Lee wrote:

…the fact is that Alan Gross didn’t put himself there: USAID and Development Alternatives did. If Development Alternatives and USAID had never asked Mr. Gross to perform government work in Cuba, he would be a free man today. Very sad.

The contractor’s wife, Judy Gross, told the Baltimore Sun, said her husband feels abandoned.

He feels that the government sent him on a project, it didn’t work, and that’s the end of their responsibility. So he feels like a soldier left in the field to die.

A petition asking the U.S. government to hold talks with Cuba to try to secure Gross’s freedom didn’t generate the 25,000 signatures needed to force the White House to respond to the request.


Tracey Eaton was the Dallas Morning News bureau chief in Cuba from 2000 to early 2005. Before that, he headed the paper’s Mexico City bureau. Eaton, a former Fulbright scholar, has been a journalist and photographer since 1983. He travels to Havana regularly. In 2010 and again in 2011, Eaton received a Pulitzer Center grant to support his reporting in Cuba. He has been investigating U.S.-financed pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *