First things first: The release of Alan Gross, which this newspaper has called for practically from the moment he was detained five years ago, is indeed welcome news. All Americans should all rejoice in his freedom. “The best Hanukkah,” the overjoyed Mr. Gross told reporters. “What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country.”
Second; This is a new beginning, a milestone in U.S./Cuba relations, but President Obama’s opening to Cuba is not yet the “game-changer” others have labeled it. The game won’t change until Cuba makes effective, substantive moves toward democratic reform in Cuba.
Third: Raul Castro told the nation on Wednesday that Cuba agreed to restore full diplomatic relations “without renouncing a single one of our principles.” If those principles include maintaining a chokehold on liberty inside Cuba, the hopes of the Cuban people and the exile community will be dashed once again.
Fourth: The Obama administration managed to get Alan Gross home without falling into the trap of engaging in a hostage-for-spies swap. Mr. Gross was not, never has been, an intelligence asset and never should have been in prison. The swap of an American intelligence agent imprisoned in Cuba for the three convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons that was part of the arrangement that brought Mr. Gross home, together with the release of Cuban political prisoners, has numerous Cold War precedents, however. Why it could not have been arranged earlier, before Mr. Gross came close to dying in a Cuban prison, remains a major unanswered question.
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Fifth: The intervention of Pope Francis, who made a personal appeal on behalf of Mr. Gross to both Barack Obama and Raul Castro, played a crucial role in Wednesday’s developments. So did his willingness to allow the Vatican to be the site of a crucial negotiating session last month between diplomats from the United States and Cuba. His role reflects the larger global view that the half-century-long diplomatic estrangement between the United States and Cuba should come to an end for the good of all.
Sixth: President Obama promised that the United States would not relent in efforts to help the Cuban people. “We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” That should remain the guiding principle of American policy toward Cuba, with or without sanctions.