Cuba’s American Hostage
Mauricio Claver-Carone: Cuba's American Hostage
The White House calls for the release of Alan Gross but puts scant
pressure on Havana to let him go.
By MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE
Since December 2009, American development worker Alan Gross has been
imprisoned by the Castro regime for trying to help Cuba's Jewish
community connect to the Internet. For that Mr. Gross—who was in Cuba as
a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development—was
arrested, convicted in a sham trial and sentenced to 15 years.
The White House and State Department have repeatedly called for Alan
Gross's "immediate release." The Gross family's legal team urged the
family to keep a low profile, thinking it could negotiate his release.
(The family ended that representation earlier this year.)
But Fidel and Raúl Castro don't typically react to discretion and
haven't felt much U.S. pressure on this case. Even after Mr. Gross was
seized, the administration sought rapprochement with Havana and
continued talks in 2010 and 2011. It also has continued to ease U.S.
sanctions on Cuba.
Mr. Gross's sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, recently led a protest in front
of the Cuban Interests Section—a de facto embassy—in Washington, D.C.,
seeking her brother's release. She feels "he's being ignored" and says,
"Alan does not want to be forgotten. He doesn't want to be left there.
He wants people to know about him."
It's easy to understand her concern. In April 2009, the Obama
administration eliminated all restrictions on Cuban-American travel and
remittances to Cuba, which became the centerpiece of our nation's new
"Cuba policy." Those actions predated Mr. Gross's arrest. However, after
Mr. Gross was seized in December of that year and throughout 2010, while
he was being held without trial, the administration took various steps
that, collectively, seem incomprehensible.
The administration initially used diplomatic mechanisms to try to
negotiate Mr. Gross's release. These included a high-profile visit to
Havana in January 2011 by then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.
Ostensibly this was for the Cuba Migration Talks, which are part of a
process to ensure safe and legal migration from Cuba. But Ms. Jacobson
was the highest-level official ever to represent the U.S. at the talks,
and it was hoped she could intercede on behalf of Mr. Gross. Nothing
Common sense suggests that at this point the Obama administration should
have toughened its stance by making clear that there would be
repercussions if Mr. Gross was not released. Instead, the administration
began another round of easing sanctions the next week.
This time the concessions to Havana had nothing to do with advancing the
humanitarian goal of allowing Cuban-Americans to visit and assist their
families. Instead Washington agreed to establish a frivolous travel
category under the banner of encouraging "people-to-people" visits.
Under the "people-to-people" program, the Cuban government approves
package tours of Havana conducted by U.S. "nonprofit" companies.
American tourists are accompanied by regime "guides." Tourists visit
government ministries, confiscated cigar factories, censored art
festivals, official cultural events and other places burnished by the
Castros' propaganda machine. Evening mojitos and salsa dancing are included.
Such trips have become a great new source of "trouble-free" travelers
and income for the Cuban regime. They're also lucrative for U.S.
entities, including many state and local chambers of commerce, which
license the dealings and now offer "Cuba tours" to members at a premium
The Obama administration followed up that all's-well message to the
Communist dictator still holding an American hostage by granting a visa
to Cuban dictator Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela, to make a promotional
tour across the U.S.
It's no wonder the Gross family has become more vocal and is now holding
weekly protests at the Cuban Interests Section. Two U.S. senators, Dick
Durbin (D., Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R., Kan.)—who have historically
encouraged U.S. business ties with the Castro regime—stated in June that
they have suspended their efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba trade. Sen Moran
said he hoped this would "put pressure" on Havana to release Mr. Gross.
In July, the Obama administration did indefinitely postpone its yearly
Cuba-U.S. Migration talks. But the Commerce Department is allowing
shipments directly to Cuba out of the Port of Miami of food, medicine
and other humanitarian items—and also of 32-inch flat-screen TVs.
Will the Obama administration—or a Romney administration—ever make it
clear to the Castro brothers that their regime cannot take Americans
hostage with impunity? The prospect of the U.S. rolling back
non-humanitarian travel and transactions to the island would get
Havana's attention. One thing is abundantly clear: Alan Gross needs
stronger, tougher support than rhetorical demands that he be
Mr. Claver-Carone, an attorney, is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy
PAC and host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio.