Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alan Gross: Stuck Between Havana and Washington

"Alan is a pawn from a failed policy between the two governments… two countries that don’t have diplomatic relations."

That's a recent quote from Judy Gross explaining why her husband, Alan Gross, is still jailed in Cuba for operating clandestinely as a USAID contractor inside the island. Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in jail last March, and his supporters are now hoping to win his release on humanitarian grounds.

Last December, Cuba experts William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh drew similar conclusions about the Gross case and explained that "the poisonous bilateral atmosphere between the two countries" is the "main obstacle to [Alan Gross'] release." But, despite the historical facts about US-Cuba relations, some still believe that stronger sanctions on Cuba can help free Alan Gross.

On the Capitol Hill Cubans blog you will notice two posts with identical titles: "How to Free American Hostages." The first one was posted March 1st and links to an op-ed originally written last December by a friend of Alan Gross. The author argues that since "neither the U.S. nor Cuba is willing to negotiate an exchange [between Gross and the Cuban Five]" Washington should threaten to cut off remittances and flights to Cuba and pressure the government to free Gross. The second post was posted March 8th and links to an op-ed by Otto Reich. Reich makes the same recommendations to threaten the Cuban government with, but argues that threats are effective because they worked in the case of NGO workers released from Egypt recently.

While the first post ignores the fact that restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba from the U.S. has failed in the past, the second post from Otto Reich omits several important elements to the Egypt story. In fact, to compare Egypt and Cuba is astonishing and seems like a deliberate attempt at propaganda.

Aside from the HUGE differences in American diplomatic relations between Egypt and Cuba, threats alone didn't win the release of NGO workers in Egypt as Otto Reich argues. On the contrary, the threat from the U.S. to cut off $1.3 billion in military aid followed days of meetings between State department and Egyptian military officials in Washington, and preceded a Congressional delegation meeting with military leaders in Cairo. It is also likely that the threat was mostly political bluster since military aid to Egypt has averaged $2 billion annually since 1979 (even despite worsening human rights abuses which were ignored as conditions for aid during the Bush administration) and highly prized by U.S. military leaders.

Alan Gross is a victim, like many others, of the terrible relations between Havana and Washington. And, in this political climate you will always have hard-liners take advantage of the opportunity to push their terrible policies. And, they sometimes succeed. But, after half a century of the same policies, back and forth, it sometimes feels like you are trapped, like a victim yourself.

[Further details and updates about the Alan Gross case can be found on the Cuban Triangle blog.]

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