Five years after the detention and subsequent imprisonment of U.S. citizen Alan Gross in Cuba, pleas for his release continue to fall on deaf ears in Havana. His prolonged detention confirms the capricious and mean-spirited nature of the Castro regime.
Mr. Gross was on a mission from USAID to deliver computer and Internet equipment to the island’s small Jewish community when he was detained on Dec. 3, 2009. After the usual phony trial more than a year later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, an extraordinary and utterly unjustified sentence in view of the alleged violation.
Ever since his trial and sentencing, periodic suggestions have been made that he should be traded for three Cuban spies who were members of the so-called Wasp network that operated in South Florida, as if a USAID contract worker is comparable to a cadre of trained espionage operatives.
The latest of these calls came in one of a series of recent editorials in The New York Times. The Times, of course, is entitled to its opinion, but it’s worth noting that when an editorial writer from the newspaper met recently with prominent dissidents in Havana, they refuted the newspaper’s arguments, particularly the notion that it is up to the United States to take the initiative when, in reality, the Cuban government holds the keys to Mr. Gross’ cell door.
The meeting was later detailed in a report by independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, who was part of the group, in her online newspaper, 14ymedio.
“I have an idea,” said dissident Miriam Celaya. “The clearest and strongest action that the Cuban government could take is to liberate public opinion, to liberate the circulation of ideas. To let Cuban citizens speak out.”
Ms. Sánchez, perhaps the most prominent dissident voice known outside Cuba, labeled some of the New York newspaper’s editorial stands regrettable because they did not take into account the reality of life in Cuba. Ms. Celaya ridiculed an editorial that blamed the U.S. embargo for Cuba’s brain drain, saying it failed to note that Cuban doctors sent abroad on missions by Havana were virtual “slaves” of the government.
Impartial observers who have no stake in the long-standing dispute between Cuba and the United States have weighed in on the Gross case with calls for his release. The clearest call came in January 2013, when the U.N. Human Rights Council’s imprisonment watchdog said Cuba should release the imprisoned American.
Among the reasons cited: Cuba’s lack of an independent judiciary, the imprecise nature of Gross’ alleged crime and the failure to grant him bail. All of this, the U.N. watchdog report said, rendered the 15-year sentence “arbitrary.” Predictably, Cuba, which is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (for obvious reasons), rejected the U.N. report, as well as a subsequent appeal by Mr. Gross’ wife based on that report.
We agree that the U.S. government, which sent Mr. Gross to Cuba, has a moral obligation to try everything within reason to bring him home. But putting the burden for his release on the United States and ignoring the Cuban government’s responsibility for his incarceration is wrong.
The absurdity of the proposed exchange is evident even to legislators in his home state of Maryland, who are sympathetic to his plight and have worked with his family to seek his release. “I have a message for Mr. Castro down in Cuba,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., wrote last month in an email. “Let Alan Gross go! Let him go today, let him go now.”