Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    No more `Open hand’ — Obama must get tough with Castros

    Posted on Wednesday, 04.14.10
    No more `Open hand’ — Obama must get tough with Castros

    Barack Obama is coming to Miami, and American remains in prison in Cuba. was distributing telephones and laptops to Jewish organizations in Cuba when he was Dec. 5. Since then he’s been accused, but never formally charged, of spying for the .

    For a month the regime refused to allow American diplomats to visit Gross, who was working with the U.S. Agency for International Development in a congressionally mandated program to promote democracy in Cuba. Gen. Raúl perversely declared Gross’s arrest proved Obama’s offer to extend an “open hand” to regimes willing to “open their closed fist” was a sham.

    President Obama has tried “open hand” diplomacy in Cuba to no avail. He lifted restrictions on Cuban-American remittances and visits. When the regime complained of Christmas lights at the U.S. mission in , they were turned off. The State Department called off distribution of a Penguin biography written for children about President Obama. It acquiesced to Cuban demands that leaders not be invited to functions with members of the foreign diplomatic corps. Havana enforces many restrictions on U.S. diplomats; there are no similar measures on Cuban diplomats here.

    Havana’s response to this diplomacy was to snub Obama’s request that it reduce the high tax it imposes on remittances (a real windfall for the regime); and Cuba joined ’s Hugo Chávez in vilifying Obama. The Castros also propagate the falsehood that while others try to help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, the United States uses the catastrophe to occupy Haiti and abuse its people.

    When is enough, enough?

    Negotiations are taking place to win Gross’ release, and Havana wants the United States to end its AID-financed programs promoting democracy and free information in Cuba. Unforgivably, those programs were placed on hold for months, and today function in a very limited way. The regime is prepared to hold Gross hostage to end the programs permanently, and its fist is as hard as ever.

    But Washington has options to obtain Gross’ release, and to prevent the Castros from arresting and holding other traveling Americans hostage. Instead of asking what the regime wants in exchange for releasing Gross, America should be telling Havana what consequences it faces if it doesn’t release Gross. He is not the first foreigner to be arrested distributing information or forbidden tools of world communication, but the others were released and expelled.

    That Havana chooses to make Gross an issue suggests that the Castros think they can bully the president. Here are things Washington can do to win Gross’s release:

    • Set a deadline for his release, warning that if he is not, all American to Cuba will be suspended because Americans aren’t safe in Cuba.

    • Announce the full resumption of AID’s pro-democracy program, keeping faith with Congress, which has funded it, and with commitments made to Florida Sen. George LeMieux last year.

    • End the impunity enjoyed by Cuban officers who murdered Americans in international airspace by turning in their names to Interpol.

    • Increase the power of Radio Martí to overcome Cuban jamming and issue an executive order for aircraft broadcasting TV Martí to fly into international airspace so that Cubans know what is going on.

    • Within the constraints of American law, treat and hold Cuban spies under the same conditions as Gross is being held.

    • Impose the same and other restrictions on Cuban diplomats that American diplomats suffer in Cuba.

    • Review the reduction of staff and closing of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., a measure feared by the regime.

    • Distribute through American embassies abroad a White Paper on the Obama administration’s efforts to reach out to Havana and the Castros’ negative responses. Their hostility has been demonstrated by their actions and unrelenting campaigns of disinformation.

    The arrest of Gross is an outrage, as is the continuing abuse of the Cuban people. Failing to react strongly serves to feed the Castro brothers’ sense of impunity and to embolden their continued thuggish behavior.

    Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Arlington, Va.