Cuba-US Should Duplicate Spy Swap

By Circles Robinson

Alan Gross. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES, July 9 — Russia and the United States made a spy swap Friday in Vienna, Austria.  The day before, Cuba announced it would gradually release 52 political prisoners in negotiations involving the Catholic Church and Spain.

Both actions show that when there’s a will there’s a way and that seemingly intransigent politicians can actually dialogue effectively when they put pre-conditions aside.

Another similar action that would be a big step towards normalization of relations between the US and Cuba —something that President Obama hinted at during his campaign— would be a prisoner swap with Cuba. This might involve sending US agent Alan Gross (of the defense contractor Development Alternatives, Inc.) back to the US, and Washington finally releasing the Cuban Five.

Gross has been in a Cuban jail since last December and the Cubans imprisoned since September 1998 in the US.

Photo: Bill Hackwell

The US government denies Gross was distributing illegal electronic equipment in Cuba saying he was simply on a humanitarian mission, one similar to those his company carries out under contract for the US Defense Department in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Cuban Five —considered heroes on the island— have been in US jails for nearly 12 years.  Havana claims they had only infiltrated terrorist organizations that are allowed to operate out of Miami against Cuba, but the US says the men conspired to spy on American military installations.

In light of events over the last two days, a similar swap with Gross and the Cuban Five, allowing all to return to their countries and families, would be a historic sign of goodwill that could lead to the end of a half-century long adversarial relationship between the United States and Cuba.

2 thoughts on “Cuba-US Should Duplicate Spy Swap

  • “The actions of the Cuban Five caused the infiltration of military bases and the deaths of four Americans.”

    Infiltrated military bases? One of the Five had a low level, no-security clearance job on the Boca Chica military base in the Florida Keys. Another spy took photos of planes on a runway from a public road. No one, including Pentagon officials and four senior retired military officials who testified during the trial (one of them, in fact, is now the recently appointed United States Director of National Intelligence), ever suggested the Five had gained access to classified information. Or tried hard to. (For what purpose? To invade the United States?)

    Their role was primarily to infiltrate Miami-based anti-exile groups that were planning attacks on Cuba, including planting bombs in tourist hotels (a plot which resulted in the death of one tourist and much property destruction) and another plot to plant a bomb aboard an airplane carrying tourists to Cuba from Europe or Canada. (Given that two militant exiles, Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch, both currently alive and well and walking the streets of Miami, are widely believed to be responsible for the first ever act of air terrorism—the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight in 1976 that killed 73 passengers—the possibility of such a horrific plot is very real.)

    In the post-9/11 world, Americans would certainly expect their country’s spies to do whatever they could to infiltrate terrorist groups plotting to attack their country. The Cubans were doing the same.

    One of the organizations the Five infiltrated was Brothers to the Rescue. Whatever humanitarian purpose may have led to the group’s creation in 1991—air spotting and rescuing refugees fleeing by raft from Cuba to the US—became moot after a 1994 agreement between Clinton and Castro on how to handle future rafters.

    So the Brothers group became agents provocateurs, flying into Cuban airspace to drop leaflets on Havana and testing (in Florida) weapons that could be used to attack Cuba. The Cubans objected on many occasions and made clear that, if the air space violations continued, they would shoot down the Brothers aircraft.

    In February 1996, they did. One can argue that those planes were actually in international waters when they were shot down (an International Civil Aviation Report into the shootodown concluded exactly that). One can also argue that, whatever the provocation, shooting the planes down was unwarranted in the circumstances.

    What is harder to argue—as Matt Lawrence does and as the prosecution in the Cuban Five case did—is that members of the Five were in any way responsible for shooting down the aircraft.

    Thanks to standard international air traffic information—and not secret information from its agents—Havana knew everything it needed to know to shoot down the aircraft that day.

    We know Havana instructed the agents who had infiltrated the Brothers group not to fly on missions during the period when the shootdown occurred. While that would seem to indicate that the attack was pre-planned, there was no direct evidence in the mountains of documents the prosecution presented in the case to indicate that any of the agents in Miami had any advance warning of what was being planned. Or any role in the decision to shoot down the plane.

    The real reason the Five were convicted is because their trial took place in Miami where terrorists are treated as heroes, so long as they direct their terrorist acts at Cuba, and where anyone who supports the Cuban government is fair game.

  • The situations are completely different. The U.S. and Russia enjoy normalized relations. Cuba does not.
    The Russian spies were low level spies and have not killed any Americans that we know of. The actions of the Cuban Five caused the infiltration of military bases and the deaths of four Americans.

    Learn the truth about the Cuban Five. Read BETRAYAL: Clinton, Castro & The Cuban Five

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