Cuba’s American Hostage: New Strategy Needed

| Thursday, December 6th, 2012 | No Comments »

Jose CardenasThis week marks the third anniversary of the Cuba’s arrest of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross for the “crime” of delivering internet equipment to a Jewish group in Havana.  Working under a U.S. program to support the Cuban people — as opposed to the Cuban regime — Mr. Gross was subsequently sentenced in a Cuban kangaroo court to 15 years in prison for acts “against the state.”

The ordeal has taken a terrible toll on Mr. Gross.  He has reportedly lost more than 100 pounds, may have cancer, and has been unable to see his elderly mother, similarly stricken with cancer.  Not that that is of any concern to the Castro regime.

In fact, the regime has made it clear that Mr. Gross is merely a bargaining chip, dangling his possible release in exchange for five convicted Cuban intelligence operatives serving prison sentences for illegal activities in the United States, including spying on U.S. defense facilities.

To its credit, the Obama administration has spurned the offer, rightly rejecting any equivalence between the cases.  This week, 31 U.S. Senators co-sponsored a resolution similarly rejecting any ransom deal and demanding Mr. Gross’s unconditional release.

Mr. Gross’s case has also benefited from his wife Judy’s indefatigable campaign to secure his release.  In recent days, she launched a flurry of activity to increase pressure on both Cuba and now the U.S. to resolve her husband’s ordeal, including launching a $60 million lawsuit against the U.S. government and the contractor that employed him and becoming more critical of the Obama administration, calling on it now to make the concessions necessary to gain Mr. Gross’s freedom.

One can only imagine the pain and desperation Judy Gross is feeling knowing her husband is in the hands of an unaccountable group of thugs that remain in power by brutalizing others.  Yet, the sad reality is that Judy Gross has been victimized twice: first by the Castro government’s unjust incarceration of her husband, and, secondly, by misguided advice from her attorneys that has prolonged and continues to prolong her husband’s incarceration.

Her first legal team advocated “quiet diplomacy,” relying on the imagined good will of the Castro regime to eventually recognize the error of their ways and summarily release Mr. Gross.  Two years later, not surprisingly, that approach was an utter failure, as Mrs. Gross came to realize.

She then signed on with human rights attorney Jared Genser, who has launched a much more aggressive campaign, including appealing the case to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.  Unfortunately, however, Mr. Genser also apparently believes in now treating the U.S. government as a virtual co-conspirator in Mr. Gross’s continued incarceration.

As he recently said at a Washington press conference, “President Obama needs to send a high-level envoy to Cuba, who has the authority to discuss the range of issues in the bilateral relationship and to take whatever decisions are necessary to bring Alan home.”

A new strategy is indeed needed to obtain Mr. Gross’s release, but making U.S. policy an issue should not be any part of it.  Not only does it morally muddy the waters of what is clearly an unmitigated injustice committed by the Cuban regime, but it actually serves Havana’s purpose by furthering their propaganda campaign that what needs to change is not Cuban behavior, but U.S. policy.

Indeed, what incentive is there on Cuba’s part to release Mr. Gross anytime soon when Mr. Genser is publicly attacking U.S. policy and focusing on what Washington needs to do to resolve the situation?  That approach may win plaudits from editorialists at the New York Times, but the practical result will only be more jail time for Mr. Gross.

As is should have been clear from the very beginning of this ordeal, Mr. Gross is only coming home when his Cuban captors realize that the cost of continuing to hold him outweighs the benefits.  And the only way to make them feel the cost is by hitting them in the pocketbook, which means rolling back such signature administration initiatives as liberalized travel to Cuba, which puts desperately needed hard currency in the regime’s coffers.  If Mrs. Gross’s lawyers want to take on the administration, then that is where they need to focus their efforts.  Because the sooner the Cuban government sees fewer cash-carrying U.S. visitors to subsidize their control of the Cuban people, the sooner will Alan Gross be finally reunited with his suffering family.

José R. Cárdenas served in several foreign policy positions during the George W. Bush administration (2004-2009), including on the National Security Council staff. He is a consultant with Vision Americas in Washington, DC.

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