Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    The old fossil hate begins to change

    The old fossil hate begins to change
    By Gabriela Esquivada

    NEW YORK — Granma, the official voice of the Cuban Communist Party,
    printed several pictures of the moment when last Friday, February 28,
    Fernando González stepped onto the tarmac of José Martí International
    Airport in Havana. He had been handcuffed during the flight; his
    expression was filled with anxiety. He was also shown in an
    old-fashioned VIP room — beige curtains, ornamented rug, heavy armchairs
    — where grey-haired men in khakis greeted him as President Raúl Castro
    hugged him and called him a hero: the second of the Cuban Five released
    after serving his full sentence in the US for conspiracy and failure to
    register as foreign a agent.
    González Llort, René González (on parole since October, 2011; allowed to
    go back to Cuba last year), Antonio Guerrero (estimated release:
    September 2017), Ramón Labañino (estimated release: October 2024) and
    Gerardo Hernández (two life terms plus 15 years) are considered heroes
    in Cuba and have been at the centre of an international campaign for
    their freedom.
    They were convicted in 2001 as part of the Wasp Network, a group of 10
    people (the other five took plea bargains) sent by Fidel Castro, still
    in power, to spy on anti-Cuban militant groups in Florida. Cuba had been
    the object of right-wing attacks — among them, a series of bombs in the
    hotels of a newly revived tourism industry, the main source of national
    income after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In one of those attacks
    an Italian citizen was killed. One of the Five, Hernández, was charged
    with conspiracy to commit murder: he had infiltrated Brothers to the
    Rescue before the Castro government shot down two of their planes,
    allegedly over Cuban waters, killing four activists. He is expected to
    spend the rest of his life in prison.
    The trial of the Cuban Five was the longest in US history at that time
    and, according to the defence, one of the most unfair; they had limited
    access to the evidence and were denied a change of jurisdiction from
    Miami to Fort Lauderdale, only 20 miles to the North. As a consequence,
    the Jury felt the pressure of the strongly anti-Castrist media and the
    extremist exiled. Five years later the UN Human Rights Commission
    declared that the trial had been “arbitrary,”because it “did not take
    place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality which is
    required.”Former US President Jimmy Carters aid in 2011, in one of his
    friendly visits to Cuba: “In my private talks to President (George W.)
    Bush and also with President (Barack) Obama, I have urged the release of
    these prisoners.”
    The Cuban Five case is a sample of the fossil relations between the US
    and Cuba. Another one is the embargo, in place for 54 years, which has
    only caused suffering to the Cubans without even scratching the surface
    of the Castro brothers control over the island — and maybe adding to it
    by reinforcing the image of a David-and-Goliath battle.
    Six statues enforce the embargo, from the Trading with the Enemy Act of
    1917 to the famous Helms-Burton Act of 1996 which strengthened the ban
    of business and listed requirements that Cuba should meet in order to
    trade again. Nevertheless, the US is among the five largest exporters to
    the island. Legal shortcuts allow the US to receive as much as
    $457,318,357 in communist cash (Cuba cannot get credit) in exchange for
    poultry, pork, corn, wheat and soybean oil, according to US-Cuba Trade
    and Economic Council, Inc.
    Even if US citizens cannot travel to Cuba without previous government
    authorization, they do so through a third country, like Mexico or
    Bahamas. The same goes for Cuban-American families who find a way to
    avoid restrictions to visit or assist their loved ones on the island.
    It is hardly a surprise, then, to know that 56 percent of US citizens
    “from every region and across party lines support normalizing relations
    with Cuba,” as a recent Atlantic Council pollproved. Over 2,000 people
    were surveyed by Glen Bolger, a Republican, and Paul Maslin, a Democrat.
    The supposedly stubborn Sunshine State showed a higher rate of support:
    63 percent.
    Democrat Charlie Crist, who wants to be Florida Governor for a second
    time, is trying to change his hard-liner image and has announced his
    support for ending sanctions against Cuba.“The embargo has been there —
    what, 50 years now? I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me that we
    need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away,” he said in
    February on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Even sugar mogul and exile
    leader Alfonso Fanjulsaid he would be “happy” to take back “the family
    flag” to Cuba: “If there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United
    States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up
    and in place, then we will look at that possibility. We have an open
    mind”, he said to The Washington Post.
    Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart,
    and Senator Marco Rubio, were shocked.
    But both Crist and Fanjul want simple things: one, to go back to office
    with the promise of job creation for Floridians; the other, to expand
    his business. They have paid attention to Raúl Castro’s measures to fuel
    the private sector through foreign investment and the creation of local
    entrepreneurship; also the change of unpopular migration policies which
    now allow Cubans (at least those who can get the money to do so) to
    travel abroad, and those who fled from poverty, to return.
    US liberal press have also been taking note of those changes. “The
    Evolution of Cuba,” was the title of a piece by Damien Cave in The New
    York Times last Sunday; The Boston Globe run an editorial, “Cuba’s
    reforms pave way for new US policy, too,” one year ago. The point is
    also simple: if the neighbour does not step onto the island, China
    certainly will.
    Ever since Cuba’s Independence Wars, the love-hate bonds between the
    country and the US have been deep and not only political. It is almost
    natural that most of US nationals want to end the embargo and do
    business with Cuba (62 percent), believe that it should not be in the
    list of terrorist countries (52 percent, 61 percent in Florida), wish to
    be able to travel without restrictions (61 and 67 percent) and favour
    diplomatic coordination on issues of mutual concern (56 and 62 percent).
    There are political prisoners in Cuba — among them Alan Gross, the US
    Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor sentenced to
    15 years for “acts against the territorial integrity of the state”;
    there are three of the Five. There is a communist system evolving in an
    unpredictable direction, lacking dissent or freedom of speech and
    assisting growing opportunity along with economic inequality; there have
    been US$17.5 million assigned for “Cuba democracy programs”out of USAID
    budget every year (it seems that not in 2014, due to complaints over
    mishandling) for Miami-based organizations. And there are new
    generations of Cubans, both on the island and in the US, who have gone
    hungry during the so-called Special Period, suffered family diaspora,
    and lost the best years of their lives to Cold War leftovers. They want
    change — and they’re not alone.
    Harlot’s Ghost recounts the years of Bay of Pigs, the killing attempts
    against Fidel Castro, the Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination. The
    three words that close Norman Mailer’s colossal worksound today as
    unsettling as ever: “To be continued.”

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