It’s Cuba’s turn to be humanitarian
By Judith E. Gross | From the Newspaper | 12 hours ago
WASHINGTON: There is nothing more agonising than losing a loved one. The
pain is made all the worse if there is no closure, no ability to say
goodbye, no comforting one another.
Ren Gonzlez, one of five Cuban intelligence officers — known as the
"Cuban Five" — convicted in the United States of espionage and related
charges, attained supervised release in Miami last year after 13 years
in prison. A federal judge recently granted Gonzlez's humanitarian
request to return to Cuba temporarily to say goodbye to his brother, who
has terminal brain and lung cancer. I hope they find solace in their
When US District Judge Joan Lenard responded to Gonzlez's plea last
month, I thought she made the right and moral decision. I began to hope
the Cuban government would respond similarly to the situation of my
husband, Alan Gross.
Alan has been imprisoned in Cuba since Dec 3, 2009, for providing
improved Internet access to three Cuban Jewish communities as part of
his work under a subcontract with the US Agency for International
Development. Alan was not and is not a spy, as Cuban President Raul
Castro has publicly agreed. Among the many other differences between
Gonzlez and my husband is that Alan is not yet able to say goodbye to a
terminally ill loved one.
Alan's 89-year-old mother has inoperable lung cancer. She longs to see
her son. So far, the Cuban government has not decided to reciprocate the
humanitarian gesture extended to Gonzlez. Are Cuba's leaders really that
cold and uncaring? Why will they not allow Alan the same humanitarian
privilege granted to Gonzlez?
There had been reason recently to think Cuba was open to such
"humanitarian reciprocity." Although Alan was held in Cuba without
charge for 14 months and then summarily tried and sentenced, Cuba's
foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, told the New York Times in September
that he did not "see any way in which we can move on towards a solution
of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the
basis of reciprocity."
Last month, Cuba's vice foreign minister, Josefina Vidal, told MSNBC:
"We have conveyed to the United States government our willingness to
have a dialogue to look for a solution on this case on [a] humanitarian
reciprocal basis and we are waiting for a response."
Just a few days after Vidal's comments, Cuba received its response: Rene
Gonzlez arrived in Havana on March 30 to visit his suffering brother,
thanks to Lenard's humanitarian order.
I also felt hopeful because, early last month, my husband similarly made
a direct request to Castro for permission to visit the United States for
two weeks to be with his mother on what may be her final birthday. Alan
had just learned that his mother's lung cancer had taken a turn for the
Alan and his mother, Evelyn, who turns 90 on Sunday, have always shared
a special bond. Before his arrest, they spoke several times a day. Their
phone calls were filled with stories, jokes and lots of laughter.
Unfortunately, that warm tradition has been degraded to the occasional
heart-wrenching phone call from a son who knows his mother is fading
with each passing minute.
Their laughter has been replaced by tears. I see the way they are
tormented by the fact they may never see each other again.
Both recognise that their fate lies in Castro's hands, just as Gonzlez's
fate rested with Lenard.
This week we are celebrating Passover — the Jewish holiday commemorating
the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. We are
reminded of the struggles our ancestors encountered so we might
experience true freedom. As a family, we remain hopeful that Castro will
likewise make the honourable, courageous and humanitarian decision to
allow Alan to visit his mother. The anticipated chorus of responses on
both sides — attempting to distinguish crimes, sentences and even
governments — is irrelevant if the decision maker's motivation is purely
humanitarian, as was Lenard's.
Cuban authorities, in particular Castro, should demonstrate whether they
are the humanitarian people they claim to be, seriously interested in
reciprocity and honouring their words — or whether their words are empty
rhetoric, intended all along to deceive.