HAVANA — With that pessimism that by now has become chronic in our society, many of us Cubans thought that Alan Gross would leave Cuba only “feet first,” in an image depicting a fatal outcome. The obstinacy that the Cuban government has shown in its relations with the United States did not presage a short-term solution for the subcontractor.
However, on Wednesday, he was [released, as were] three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, thus bringing to a close a long and complicated political chapter for both parties.
Gross was useful only while alive, and his health deteriorated very rapidly. Raúl Castro knew that very well. That is why in the past several months he raised the decibels on his proposal to exchange him for the agent Antonio Guerrero and the officers Ramón Labañino and Gerardo Hernández, who served long sentences in prisons in our neighbor country to the north.
As the 65-year-old subcontractor grew thinner and lost his sight, the official campaigns insisted more loudly in the exchange. When Gross threatened to take his own life, alarms rang throughout the government, and the timetable for negotiation was speeded up.
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For his part, President Obama clearly saw that any change in policy toward Havana would run into the insurmountable obstacle of an American imprisoned for “threats to the security of the State.”
The New York Times itself had suggested the exchange in one of its editorials on Cuba, and the publication of that article in such a prestigious newspaper was read as a portent of what would happen.
As in every political game, we could see only one side while, in the backstairs of power, negotiators tied the ribbons on the accord that was made public this week.
For those of us who know the mechanisms of pressure used by Revolution Square on its opponents, Gross’ very arrest can be seen as a move aimed at rescuing the Interior Ministry agents. The subcontractor was arrested not so much for what he did as for what could be achieved through him.
He was a simple bait and was aware of that from the start. His crime was not bringing devices for satellite connection to the Internet to Cuba’s Jewish community, but carrying in his pocket a passport that transformed him immediately into a piece of exchange on the board of the tense bilateral relations between Washington and Havana.
If we review the five years of captivity Gross endured, we will see a well-researched news script that the Cuban government used to pressure the Obama administration. Every image that came to the public eye, every visitor who was allowed to see him was authorized with the single condition that it should reinforce the theory of exchange.
In that manner, Castroism managed to achieve its purposes. It managed to release a peaceful man enrolled in the humanitarian adventure of providing connectivity and information to a group of Cubans and regain intelligence agents who caused significant damage and pain with their actions.
In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to overpower the democracies because they control public opinion inside their countries, predetermine the legal outcomes at will and can spend 15 years spending the resources of an entire nation to liberate the moles they sent into an adversary’s territory.
The democracies, in turn, end up giving in because they have to answer to their people, to coexist with an incisive press that reproaches the leaders for making — or not making — certain decisions and because they’re obligated to do everything possible to carry their dead and their living back home.
Castroism has won, although the positive result is that Alan Gross has emerged alive from a prison that threatened to become his tomb. Now we can expect long weeks of cheers and slogans, during which the Cuban government will proclaim itself the winner of its latest battle.
But there is no space in the national pantheon for so many breathing heroes, and little by little the newly returned agents will lose importance and visibility. The myth that was created for them will begin to fade.
Now that the principal obstacle for the reestablishment of relations has been eliminated, we wait to learn what the next step will be. Does the Cuban government plan some other movement to be again in a position of strength with the government of the United States?
Or have all the cards been put on the table, before the tired eyes of a population that suspects that Castroism will again win the next round?