Emilio Paz  (Progreso Weekly)

Edward Alexander (“Alex”) Lee, acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.
Edward Alexander (“Alex”) Lee, acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.

HAVANA TIMES – Some personal observations on the just-concluded migration talks.

The U.S. State Department issued a short press statement on Friday (10 January) summarizing the meeting held yesterday in Havana between U.S. and Cuban officials “to discuss the implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords.”

The second of the statement’s three paragraphs dealt with the American delegation’s “call for the release of Alan Gross, who was arrested […] on Dec. 3, 2009, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small religious community on the island and the rest of the world.”

One day earlier, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) had issued its own press statement on the meeting, in which it cited “the actions taken by both parties to combat illegal migration and aliens smuggling.”

“The Cuban delegation insisted once again on the fact that these phenomena would not be eradicated nor there could be a legal, safe and orderly migration as long as the wet-foot-dry-foot policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act are not derogated,” it said, “for these are the main encouragement to illegal departures and irregular arrivals of Cuban citizens in the U.S. territory.”

The Cuban statement made no mention of Alan Gross, most likely because his case is not one of illegal migration but of smuggling unauthorized electronic devices with intent to aid subversive groups or individuals, as his trial established.

The “small religious community on the island” cited by Washington — the Hebrew Community Council — has already denied requesting or receiving the sensitive telecommunication devices taken into Cuba by Mr. Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor.

Technically speaking, the Gross case is irrelevant to an agenda that, by the American statement’s own admission, is intended “to promote safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States.” It is a criminal case that needs to be aired in another forum, and the Cuban delegation yesterday followed protocol by not responding to the U.S. request and not even mentioning it in its communiqué.

Who were the chief negotiators in yesterday’s talks? On the Cuban side, Josefina de la Caridad Vidal Ferreiro, director general of the U.S. Division of the MINREX, and on the U.S. side, Edward Alexander (“Alex”) Lee, an acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere.

Little is known publicly about Alex Lee, who is not listed on the roster of Assistant Secretaries and Other Senior Officials at the State Department.

A search of the State Department website shows that, at various times, he has manned the Colombia Desk and has headed the offices of Canadian Affairs and, most recently, Mexican Affairs. The website does not contain his biography or his picture.

Back in 2004, Lee was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, under James Cason, then chief of mission and currently Mayor of Coral Gables, Fla. He remained as deputy chief when Michael Parmly took over in 2005.

To this observer, it seems peculiar that the State Department assigned an acting deputy assistant — a stand-in deputy assistant, and presumably low on the totem pole — to deal with the head of the MINREX’s U.S. Division, an unbalanced match in diplomatic terms. Is the State Department sending a second-string player to face the top-ranking U.S. specialist in Havana? If so, why? Is it an expression of calculated disdain for the topic of migration?

In my view, the issue of migration, one that affects thousands of Cubans, deserves seriousness and transparency. Maintaining secure borders and protecting lives is not an afterthought.
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Emilio Paz, a Cuba-watcher, writes occasionally for Progreso Weekly. He lives in Miami.


3 thoughts on “The Talks, the Talkers and Gross

  • Gross was working for a U.S. supported agency and was involved in activities intended to result in “regime change” a euphemism for overthrowing a sovereign government.
    The death sentence is usually the penalty for such activities in most dictatorships with whom the U.S maintains normal relations.
    Evidently the “Castros” have much to learn about being ruthless, murderous dictators.

  • That intentional ranking mismatch by the U.S is highly indicative of the U.S intention to continue an anti-socialist foreign policy that goes back, at least, to the 1918 joint U.S.-European invasion of the newborn Soviet Union .
    The on-going U.S. economic war on the people of Cuba exists, and will persist, for precisely the same reason: the maintenance and expansion of totalitarian capitalism .
    The corporate U.S. media will say that Cuba is behind the failure of these talks but that is extremely difficult to maintain given the long-standing interventionist U.S foreign policy in which well more than 50 such interventions were made just since the end of WWII.

  • The author of the post, Emilio Paz, clearly brings his left-leaning bias to this post. First of all, Alan Gross did not smuggle anything. Smuggling is defined as:
    1. To import or export without paying lawful customs charges or duties.
    2. To bring in or take out illicitly or by stealth.
    Alan Gross legally entered Cuba with the electronic goods in full view. Official Cuban reports confirm that Airport Customs officers inspected Gross’ luggage including the “illegal” electronic gear and allowed him to enter the country. Second, the Alan Gross case trumps the limited scope of immigration talks and the “protocol” associated with his freedom is always issue #1 in talks with the Castro dictatorship. Finally, while US/Cuban immigration talks obviously rank high on Cuba’s MINREX agenda, it should be understand that higher-ranking State Department officials are not needed to represent the US lower level interests as regards Cuba. The US has little or nothing to gain by holding these talks. Cuba stands to gain much more by improved relations with the US.

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