Cuba-US Agents, a Humanitarian Way Out

Fernando Ravsberg  

Olga Salanueva and Judy Gross, wives of René Gonzalez and Alan Gross. (Photo: Raquel Pérez)

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.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.


7 thoughts on “Cuba-US Agents, a Humanitarian Way Out

  • #1 Problem solving equation.

    Results Buena Voluntad ambassadors = 1000’s of good to great accomplishments (past 50 years).

    Official U.S. representatives = not many if any.

    You know this is how this has to work account of the ridiculous blockade.

    #2 Please don’t single out.

    Refer to all as crazies. At least until this power struggle ends.

    It’s running out of steam now. The younger
    Cuban generation could careless they know little about the Hatcampos and Mctimido’s.

    #3 The List has to grow.

    This in its self diminish’s the PR impact. Guessing less than 1% of U.S. citizens know anything thing about this.

    And once again they sure as hell don’t care (the real problem) like thousands of other unjust around the world.

    #4 Cuban gov. just may take us up on that if the world economy keeps its course.

    So that one won’t happen.

  • Multi-party elections are the farthest thing from a democracy.
    It is the party hierarchies in the Democrat and Republican parties; party cronies who decide for whom the public gets to vote and not those who are supposed to be represented.
    We are given our candidates . We do not choose them.

    Cuba’s system AS WRITTEN is far better than the U.S, electoral system.
    Both systems have been corrupted but Cuba’s is far more likely to be able to be reformed and made into the more democratic option that Poder Popular offers and which the U.S rule-from-the-top cannot ..

    The Military Industrial/ Corporate Complex in the U.S. is truly an unelected dictatorship of the dollar that will not allow a representative democracy.

    Such is not the case in Cuba.

  • Mr. John McAuliff,

    I think MORE IMPORTANT than president Obama sitting down to talk to Raul Castro is for Raul Castro to sit down with the opposition for an HONEST TALK about transitioning from a ONE PARTY SYSTEM to a DEMOCRACY! I find your arguments INSULTING as a Cuban born citizen!

    Humberto Capiro

  • Mr. Gross had a receipt to bring this equipment into Cuba and the Cuban Government knew this very well (see article below). There is also testimony that the Jewish Community knew of his work (see article below) and that he had been there many times. I also want to point out that the International Press was not allowed inside the courtroom (see article below) on any of his proceedings! The Cuban 5 had their due process in a transparent system of justice, unlike Mr. Alan Gross who was judged in a kangaroo court!
    SAN DIEGO CHANNEL 10 : With American In Cuban Prison, Wife Hopes For Clemency- Alan Gross Convicted Of Trying To Subvert Cuban Gov’t – From Jill Dougherty,CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent

    The equipment is illegal in Cuba without government permission, but a source close to the case told CNN that “at trial, the defense presented a receipt from Cuban Customs to demonstrate the Cubans were both aware of and approved what Alan brought in.”

    “The Cuban government did not charge Alan with bringing illegal equipment,” says the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “The charge and conviction were on crimes against the state, in other words, activity to undermine the sovereignty of Cuba, which is simply preposterous.”

    CBS NEWS: Cuban Jewish leader knew imprisoned American-First member of Cuba’s small Jewish community admits knowing and talking to American Alan Gross, imprisoned for allegedly smuggling illegal satellite communication devices-By Portia Siegelbaum

    Miller is the first member of Cuba’s small Jewish community to admit knowing and talking to Gross.”I know the person. I know exactly the person you’re referring to,” he said in a phone conversation with CBS.”I met him at the Jewish community [the building housing Beth Shalom Temple, known as the Patronato, the largest Jewish community center in the country]. He came there more than once,” Miller said responding to questions.Adela Dworin, who took over as president of the Temple following the death of Miller’s grandfather Jose Miller in 2006, had denied knowing Gross when asked shortly after the American’s arrest in December 2009. More recently she told reporters that so many Americans come to the Temple, she simply didn’t know if he had been one of them.Miller said he won’t speak on camera until after the trial, adding, “Let me tell you, the solution to the problem is coming very soon. It’s complicated. It’s hard even for me.”

    NPR : In Cuba, Jailed American Alan Gross Faces Trial

    BLOCK: Now, foreign journalists, I understand, are not allowed into the courtroom to cover the trial. You were outside the courthouse today. What were you able to learn there?

    MIROFF: That’s right. He’s being tried in a small municipal courthouse far away from the city center. Gross is there with his wife, his U.S. attorney, his Cuban attorney and U.S. consular officials. And the Cuban media, the state-run media is being allowed in and that may be a sign that the proceedings are going to show up on television soon. I think in some ways it’s not just Gross that’s on trial, it’s also the entire USAID program here in Cuba that the government wants to prosecute.

    At their trial, evidence was presented that the Five infiltrated the Miami-based Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, obtained employment at the Key West Naval Air Station in order to send the Cuban government reports about the base, and had attempted to penetrate the Miami facility of US Southern Command.[2] On February 24, 1996, two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft were shot down by Cuban military jets in international airspace while flying away from Cuban airspace, killing the four US citizens aboard.[2] One of the Five, Gerardo Hernández, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for supplying information to the Cuban government which according to the prosecution led to the shootdown. The Court of Appeals has, however, reversed the conviction on the conspiracy to commit murder, since there is no evidence that Hernández knew the shootdown would occur in international airspace.[2]

    For their part, Cuba acknowledges that the five men were intelligence agents, but says they were spying on Miami’s Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.[3] Cuba contends that the men were sent to South Florida in the wake of several terrorist bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative.[3][4]

    The Five appealed their convictions and the alleged lack of fairness in their trial has received substantial international criticism.[5] A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the spies’ convictions in 2005, citing the “prejudices” of Miami’s anti-Castro Cubans, but the full court later reversed the five’s bid for a new trial and reinstated the original convictions.[3] In June 2009 the US Supreme Court declined to review the case.[6] In Cuba, the Five are viewed as national heroes and portrayed as having sacrificed their liberty in the defense of their country.[

  • The US government and Congress, as a whole, could care less about Cuba (at least for now until a good oil deposit is drilled). The question to me is whether the Raul Castro administration (which has a lot to gain and also a lot to lose) would really like improved or normalized relations with the US. I think Ravsberg is right that a solution could be found to the situation to be faced by Rene Gonzalez and that of Alan Gross, but it would take both sides being willing to bite the bullet and take some heat.

  • If the USA wants warmer relations with Havana it should lift its genocidal blockade against the Cuban people.

    Just say NO to the dynamic duo of George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama!

    Write in NOTA on Nov 2012 for POTUS.

  • While I agree with the spirit and conclusion of this essay, there are some important errors that need to be corrected:

    1) The fundamental problem with the Richardson initiative is that he did not come as an official representative of the US government. He basically was saying, release Alan Gross through me and I will try to persuade the Obama Administration to take these steps. Had he been saying privately, assure me that Alan Gross can be released if I can get the White House to assure you that these steps will be taken, he might have accomplished something.

    2) It has been known for months that under US law Rene was obligated to spend three more years here on probation. That was part of his sentence. The question was whether the US would find a creative way for him to give up his American citizenship so he could be immediately expelled. Since the US believes Cuba is using Gross as a bargaining chip, it is not surprising that it is using Rene in the same way. The justice or injustice of the conviction does not matter. Obviously Cuba regards the Five as heroes protecting Cuba from the Miami crazies and the US regards Gross as a hero for human rights. We cannot expect either country to accept the other’s view, but we can hope they reach a humanitarian resolution that overcomes their normal legal requirements.

    3) Cuba wants to be removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. It is a gross insult and has substantial practical impact. Cuban funds and property are denied sovereign immunity in US courts. The Miami crazies tie their Florida and Washington legislative initiatives and political rhetoric to the State Sponsor listing. The language has been steadily diminished until, as Rep. Ros-Lehtinen realizes, all it would take now is a diplomatic note from Spain and Columbia confirming their embassies’ verbal statements that they have no problem with the presence of ETA and FARC persons in Cuba. Removal of Cuba would be a dramatic and doable step toward a realistic and rational relationship.

    4) The executive branch always faces a problem about what to do with Congressionally appropriated funds. Since the President did not veto the legislation, to simply sequester them leads to issues of lack of respect for the legislative branch, in effect a line item veto that US law does not recognize. To solve the problem requires the US to abandon its agenda of regime change and simply say that any USAID money spent in Cuba will have to be approved by Cuban authorities, the practice of all foreign embassies in Havana and US embassies in countries with which we have diplomatic relations, including China and Vietnam.

    President Obama needs to remember that one reason he generated such enthusiasm in his campaign was because of his promise to meet directly with leaders like President Castro. At the very least he could tell his Secretary of State to sit down for a serious private discussion with Cuba’s Foreign Minister while they are both at the UN.

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

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