One year ago, Alan Gross, a subcontractor to USAID, was detained by Cuba’s government, where he remains in custody and without charges.
The U.S. and Cuba offer conflicting explanations of the activities that led to his arrest, though even the most benign description of them (including his entry into Cuba on several occasions using a tourist visa, and the disputed suggestion he was helping Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet) on their face portray violations of a more than decade-old Cuban law.
Also in dispute is whether Mr. Gross knew the risks associated with his trips to Cuba. His family maintains that he did not, which implicates both his employer and the U.S. government in rather insensate acts of cruelty and risk-taking. But even if he did know, Mr. Gross (like so many others on both sides of the Florida Straits) is another victim of a policy designed during the Cold War to upend Cuba’s government that is both ineffective and horribly flawed.
Whatever Mr. Gross’s state of knowledge at the time of his arrest, this much is clear: he and his family are suffering immensely. He is in captivity with no knowledge, now, of his fate. He and his family are separated. His daughter is ill with breast cancer, and her father is unable to comfort her. His congregation and his friends miss him dearly. His wife faces all of this largely alone. We wish they would be reunited right away.
Judy Gross has soldiered on bravely for a year since her husband’s arrest. Her perspective on his case was summarized eloquently several weeks ago in the Miami Herald. She wants him to come home, and her pleas for a humanitarian release to Cuba’s government have, to date, gone unheeded.
The State Department and hardened opponents of Cuba policy reform invoke Alan Gross’s case as a rationale for delaying or blocking meaningful reform of U.S. policy toward the island. Judy Gross apparently feels quite differently. As she wrote in the Herald:
This is my plea to Presidents Obama and Castro: Be different from your predecessors, change the tide of bilateral relations. I call on President Obama, in whom my husband believes so much, to not forget his pledge of a “new beginning” in relations with Cuba. And I call on President Castro to continue working on improving Cuba’s human rights record. To both, I beg: Do not make Alan’s case an excuse to fall further apart, but rather an example of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations (emphasis added).
Judy Gross is right.
U.S. policy at its core contains the source of its greatest failure. By definition, whether we tighten or loosen the policy depends on what Cuba says or does. We dance on the end of a string held in Havana.
Rather than sticking with a failed policy guaranteed to fail further, there are better ways to serve the interests of U.S. foreign policy: it begins with engagement and a greater focus on U.S. interests and ideals.
We believe that citizens of both countries should be able to visit Cuba and the U.S. without needless government interference. The U.S. should take the first step and set an example by repealing the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans. Congress failed this year to enact legislation to achieve this objective, despite significant support in the House and Senate among both political parties. With the upcoming change in the House of Representatives taking place in January, that goal appears even further out of reach for the foreseeable future.
President Obama, as we have reported since August, has been contemplating an Executive Order that would use his administrative authority to open travel to Cuba – not to tourism, as we would support – but for delegations serving cultural, sports, and research objectives as well as more expansive academic purposes.
These so-called People to People exchanges are precisely in line with larger U.S. policy objectives. They foster dialogue and produce new sources of information for Cuba’s people. They would expand the benefits already being produced by Obama’s decision last year to free Cuban Americans of the Bush-era restrictions against travel to the island to visit or support their families.
They will help create additional political space for an increasing pattern of engagement in both nations. Acting now would be consistent with the President’s off-statement commitment to loosen restrictions on U.S. policy in response to measures taken by Cuba’s government to release political prisoners and to make economic reforms that would make Cubans less dependent on their government.
Supporters of the status quo always have a reason for keeping this policy, unchanged or worse, no matter what is happening in Cuba. They operate in a fact-free zone that long ago pulled its roots from reality or objective analysis. That may be the right place for them, but it is no place for President Obama or for reasonable men and women of good will who want to see progress.
We’re honored and thankful that Mrs. Gross, especially in view of her hardship, supports this new direction. It is time for the President to join her – and us – in charting a new, more hopeful course.
Please join us in expressing these views in support of travel to Cuba to the President. The Latin America Working Group has posted this petition which we hope you will sign.
This week is The Cuba Central Team reports in depth – on economic reforms in Cuba, the latest news about prisoner releases, and revelations about U.S. foreign policy, concerning Cuba and Latin America, laid bare by the WikiLeaks disclosures.
And now, this week in Cuba news…
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