Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Castro wants money, not a dialogue

    Posted on Sunday, 04.14.13


    Castro wants money, not a dialogue


    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died, and Raúl Castro is searching for

    "investors" in Cuba. Chávez spent billions of Venezuela's petro-dollars

    shoring up Cuba's economy but Venezuela's new leaders may not be as

    beneficent. Venezuela may cut off its Cuban subsidy, just as new Russian

    leaders did after the Soviet Union's demise.

    American taxpayers are at the top of Castro's list, but can the Cuban

    communist government cash in on its years of political theater

    proclaiming itself the victim of American economic aggression while

    running its own economy into the ground and training and financing

    anti-American insurgencies around the world?

    Perhaps it can, given that the collective U.S. memory is rather short if

    not wholly forgiving.

    Earlier this year, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy visited the Cuban dictator

    and returned home saying this is the time "to overcome continuing

    obstacles" and " to improve relations" because that would be in the

    "best interests of both countries." The senator means well, but his

    statements cry out for a more detailed appraisal of U.S.-Cuban relations.

    The real questions are: Improve relations for what purpose? And under

    what conditions? It might be in America's best interests to improve

    relations with North Korea, Syria and Iran too, but the obstacles

    standing in the way are similar to those in Cuba. There is no quid pro

    quo their leaders are willing to offer.

    Granted that while in Cuba, Sen. Leahy managed to wrangle permission

    from Gen. Castro to visit Alan Gross, a subcontractor with the

    U.S.Agency for International Development, who is serving a 15-year

    prison sentence. Gross after-the-fact "crime" was giving a laptop

    computer and satellite telephone to a Jewish organization seeking access

    to the Internet.

    Gross is innocent and also quite ill. Amnesty International reports he's

    lost more than 100 pounds in prison, and he has developed a growth that

    may be cancerous. Havana won't allow an American physician chosen by his

    family to see him.

    There are others. Amnesty International says that Calixto Martinez, a

    Cuban independent journalist — a reporter not working for state-run

    media — was jailed when he went to Havana's international airport to ask

    about a shipment of cholera medication sent by the World Health

    Organization. He has not been charged nor had a trial. Havana does not

    want tourists to hear about a cholera outbreak.

    But, back to the benefits of lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo

    against the Castros' dynasty: Cuba is broke and has suspended payments

    to many creditors.

    There is no ban on American companies selling foodstuffs or medicines to

    Cuba, which they do on a "cash-and-carry" basis. But Washington won't

    provide credit to Cuba, i.e., absorb the loss if the regime fails to pay

    its suppliers. Thus American companies selling to Cuba get paid and

    American taxpayers aren't on the hook when the regime fails to pay what

    it owes.

    Individually, Cubans have no "purchasing power" to speak of. The

    government is the island's only "employer" and pays workers the

    equivalent of $20 a month. Except for cigars, Cuba now has very little

    to sell to anyone. For 200 years, the engine of Cuba's economy was its

    sugar industry. It is now in shambles due to "state planning."

    Lastly, the United States lists Cuba as a state-sponsor of international

    terrorism. It does so, despite the best efforts of Ana Belen Montes, a

    high-ranking Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, who presented Havana

    as peace-loving and no threat to anyone. Montes was a spy for Cuba. She

    pleaded guilty and is now in a federal penitentiary. Her "reports" are

    still used by Castro's advocates.

    It is difficult to improve relations with dictatorships that deny human

    rights, ban labor unions and abuse and jail peaceful dissidents for

    talking about democracy. Visiting members of European parliaments have

    been arbitrarily arrested in Cuba.

    President Obama tried unilaterally to extend a "hand of friendship"

    without success. Today Havana wants money, not a meaningful dialogue

    that might lead to a "transition."

    Like Sen. Leahy, I wish things could be different, but that requires a

    demonstrable Castro initiative to change the nature of his rule in Cuba.

    Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in