Development Alternatives Inc. warned this month that a Maryland worker’s lawsuit against the private contractor and the U.S. government “could create significant risks to the U.S. government’s national security, foreign policy, and human rights interests.”
Alan Gross and his family sued DAI and the federal government for $60 million in November 2012, alleging that they failed to prepare him for a dangerous mission to Cuba, where he was captured in 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in jail.
In a Jan. 15 reply to the lawsuit, DAI asked a federal judge to throw out the suit and said documents revealed in the case could damage U.S. national security and other interests.
That sort of veiled threat amounts to “graymail,” a way to pressure the Obama administration to negotiate the release of Gross, according to Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba specialist at the non-profit National Security Archive at George Washington University.
DAI is essentially warning the U.S. government that if it doesn’t get Gross out of prison, then the lawsuit could reveal “unwelcome details of ongoing U.S. intervention in Cuba,” according to Kornbluh, who met with Gross in late November.
DAI’s reply to the lawsuit included a confidential company memo and other documents that spoke of U.S. officials’ desire to keep the Cuba project secret while projecting an illusion of transparency. See “Secrecy, politics at heart of Cuba project” and “Alan Gross and his descent into hell.”
The documents sparked a new flurry of debate over U.S. democracy promotion programs.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, a PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver, wrote:
The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States since 2009 has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 2009. But instead of facing the facts, the Obama administration has created its own fictional narrative of the controversy, which contradicts even its own publicly available documents.
Alan Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba five times as an unregistered foreign agent. A USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based out of Jewish community centers to circumvent Cuban government detection.
Gross’ actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban government or the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law—particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups.
Moreover, Gross didn’t know Cuba and didn’t speak Spanish. He was in over his head.
There is an American citizen in a Cuban jail, and every day he spends there is an embarrassment to the U.S. government.
Continuing to operate our Cuba policy under an old and failed “regime change” strategy ignores the fact that the regime is going to change soon naturally. Moving toward a comprehensive policy of engagement now is in the national interest of the United States, and is certainly in the best interests of Alan Gross.
Lopez-Levy’s column brought swift reaction from suporters of U.S. policy in Cuba. José Cardenas, a former top official at USAID, questioned the objectivity of Lopez-Levy, pointing out he is a former intelligence analyst with Cuba’s Interior Ministry. Cardenas wrote:
Curiously, he can’t seem to offer a single negative comment about his former employer, and instead is aspiring to be a star media critic of U.S. policy towards Cuba. He writes, “Raul Castro’s commitment to economic reforms and institutionalization is opening venues for the discussion of new ideas within the power structure and the general political discourse. Propositions in favor of a gradual expansion of the role of the market in the economy, the diversification of the property structure, and the expansion of the role of law and rules in the functioning of the government and the party are openly discussed.”
It is as if the Berlin Wall never fell.
In short, these Cuba experts propagate a make-believe image of Cuba that is utterly unconnected and irrelevant to the way the vast majority of Cubans live their lives. It is a Potemkin Village, in which real Cuban citizens, to the extent they are acknowledged, are expected to be content with their meager rights and opportunities — so meager that no decent person would ever accept them for anyone else living in any civilized society.
Lopez-Levy replied that he is “a social democrat, not a communist” and resigned from the Cuban government in 1994 because of “ideological differences.” After leaving Cuba, he settled in the U.S., but says he never felt a need “to join the anti-democratic pro-embargo right which is part of the problem, never the solution for Cuba or the United States.”
Also in January there was debate over whether incoming Secretary of State John Kerry would do anything to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.
In 2010, Kerry temporarily froze funding for U.S. programs in Cuba, saying:
There is no evidence that the ‘democracy promotion’ programs, which have cost the US taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping the Cuban people. Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a US government contractor.
During his confirmation hearing on Jan. 24, Kerry said – without mentioning Cuba – that he would support U.S. democracy programs around the world. Kerry said:
Global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do for other countries. It amplifies our voice, it extends our reach. It is the key to jobs, the fulcrum of our influence, and it matters – it really matters to the daily lives of Americans. It matters that we get this moment right for America and it matters that we get it right for the world.