By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, 14 Oct. — If the US State Department really cares whether its “contractor,” Alan Gross (62), ever sets foot on US soil again, depends on its willingness to engage in serious negotiations with Cuba. Otherwise the Cubans may decide to simply throw away the key until well into the 2020s.
A USA Today report on Friday notes that a swap offered by the State Department would have allowed Gross to go home in exchange for allowing released “Cuban Five” member Rene Gonzalez, now on probation in Florida, to return to his wife and family in Cuba.
The report, based on undisclosed AP sources, says that Cuba balked at the idea since Gonzalez had already served 13 years in prison before being released on Oct. 7, while Gross, is only beginning a 15 year sentence in his Havana prison cell.
The US reportedly also offered to “discuss” other Cuban concerns if Gross was allowed to return home. The Maryland resident was detained in Cuba and subsequently convicted for acting against the Cuban state while working undercover for a US-AID regime change program.
Past experience has Cuba distrustful
But the Cubans have a recent enough past experience that is still fresh on their minds and that breeds distrust of any offers from the White House for better relations.
Back in 1998, Fidel Castro provided information to Washington gathered by Cuban agents who had infiltrated violence-prone organizations allowed by successive US administrations to operate out of Florida in their never-ending effort to topple the Castro government in Cuba.
The Cubans had hoped that the Clinton White House and the FBI would act against the terrorists but the opposite took place. They instead used the information to track down the Cuban agents, leading to their arrests in September 1998. The detentions and subsequent trial of the men, – who later became known internationally as the “Cuban Five” – resulted in their sentencing in 2001 to extremely long prison terms.
In a recent article titled Cuba-US Agents, a Humanitarian Way Out, Havana based journalist Fernando Ravsberg noted: “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.”
Common sense says the real bargaining chip from Cuba’s perspective is the other four Cuban Five members still in US Federal prisons. But the State Department has repeatedly opposed such an exchange, leaving things at square one.