HAVANA TIMES, Sept.22 — It takes some effort to believe that Washington is seriously thinking they’ll succeed at securing a pardon for Alan Gross by simply saying that if Havana wants “warmer relations with the United States” they should free him. It’s as if they’ve tried to sow hopes using the strategy of the invisible carrot.
In this latest soap opera episode, former New Mexican governor Bill Richardson arrived affirming that he would only leave the island after having spoken with Gross, but in a couple of days he returned to reality and went back to his country, regretting his having been such a friend to Cuba.
The media headlined the story “Richardson Returns with Empty Hands,” but what’s certain is that when he landed in Havana he wasn’t bringing anything. And worse still, he apparently made some offers that were so ridiculous that Western diplomats still can’t believe they came from the White House.
In embassy receptions it’s said that Richardson offered to reduce aid to dissidents from $20 million to $10 million annually and to give one part of the funds to the handicapped and the other part to organizations that defend the LGBT community. Was he trying to direct funds to the president’s daughter?
He also offered to strike Cuba from the US-generated list of countries that support terrorism, an offer that couldn’t be less tempting. Havana cares little about this matter; Washington simply cannot punish the island any more than it already does with its embargo.
Additionally, according to the Miami press, Richardson requested Gross’s freedom in exchange for authorizing the exit from American territory of Rene Gonzalez, the Cuban agent scheduled to be released from prison in October. This amounts to the exchange of a prisoner who has 15 days left in jail for one who’s still expecting to serve 15 years.
But it appears that this proposal was not only the idea of Richardson, barely a few hours after the former governor’s return, Florida judge Joan Lenard denied Gonzalez the possibility of spending his three remaining years of probation in Cuba, arguing that this “dangerous” Cuban agent must continue living in the US, now by court order.
As different as apples and oranges?
They continue repeating over and over again that these are different types of cases, that the “Cuban Five” are spies and Gross is something else, something distinct that’s never very well defined. His case is always hazy, just like his past, as if his mission in Cuba had been the first job for this man in his sixties.
A Western diplomat explained to me that this is a humanitarian case, and that the wife of the American wrote a letter to Raul Castro that “will surely soften his heart because he too is a family man and will understand the difficulties that Gross is going through.”
Gross’s family is carrying out two vigils: one in New York and the other in Washington, both in front of the respective Cuban diplomatic offices. This is something that seems logical, though it’s surprising that they don’t take advantage of the trip to D.C. to conduct another vigil in front of the State Department – after all, they were the ones who put him in the “wolf’s mouth.”
The Miami media are returning to the task of stressing that Alan Gross has lost weight, which seems to have become a weighty humanitarian reason for releasing him. Following a similar logic, one would have to conclude that prisoners who put on weight don’t deserve the least compassion.
The detained agents on both sides could receive mercy and be returned to their families but it will be difficult for this to be achieved if Washington and Havana don’t sit down at the negotiation table with a reserve of serious offers and the will to compromise in order to win.
Perhaps doing a role change would make them think more realistically.
The Cubans would be able to consider what their reaction would be if they discovered a network of 20 American spies on the island and an agent who had wormed his way into the heart of the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Nor would the White House remain sitting on its hands if the FBI captured a Cuban smuggling communications equipment into the United States for use by opposition groups, ones financed with $20 million that the Cuba government sends them annually to destroy Obama’s capitalist regime and to convert it to socialism.
Not a matter of guilt
This is not about determining whether the agents are guilty or not, that’s something which the courts of both Cuba and the US have already acted upon. Nonetheless, these men could return to their homes if both governments used the powers granted to them by law to pardon the committed offenses.
Havana has just demonstrated its power to release more than 100 political prisoners, and Washington not only swapped a group of Russian spies recently, it also pardoned Orlando Bosch, a convicted anti-Castro militant who shot a bazooka at a European merchant ship and who was accused of bombing an commercial aircraft killing all the over 70 people aboard.
Barack Obama and Raul Castro have the opportunity and the authority to find a humanitarian exit to these cases and to demonstrate to their imprisoned agents that they are being taken into consideration by their leaders, the same ones who one day requested them to risk their lives behind “enemy” lines.