Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    A roll of the dice on Cuba

    A roll of the dice on Cuba
    12/17/2014 8:03 PM 12/17/2014 8:08 PM

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    First things first: The release of Alan Gross, which this newspaper has
    called for practically from the moment he was detained five years ago,
    is indeed welcome news. All Americans should all rejoice in his freedom.
    “The best Hanukkah,” the overjoyed Mr. Gross told reporters. “What a
    blessing it is to be a citizen of this country.”

    Second: This is a new beginning, a milestone in U.S.-Cuba relations, but
    President Obama’s opening to Cuba is not yet the “game-changer” others
    have called it. The game won’t change until Cuba makes effective,
    substantive moves toward democratic reform in Cuba.

    Third: Raúl Castro told the nation on Wednesday that Cuba agreed to
    restore full diplomatic relations “without renouncing a single one of
    our principles.” If those principles include maintaining a chokehold on
    liberty inside Cuba, the hopes of the Cuban people and the exile
    community will be dashed once again. The appearance on Cuban TV of the
    nation’s unelected leader in his military uniform, giving a speech
    containing the usual demagogic rhetoric, was not a promising omen.

    Fourth: The Obama administration managed to get Mr. Gross home without
    falling into the trap of engaging in a hostage-for-spies swap. Mr. Gross
    was not, and never has been, an intelligence asset and he never should
    have been in prison. The swap of an American intelligence agent
    imprisoned in Cuba for the three convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prisons
    that was part of the arrangement that brought Mr. Gross home, together
    with the release of Cuban political prisoners, has numerous Cold War
    precedents, however. Why it could not have been arranged earlier, before
    Mr. Gross came close to dying in a Cuban prison, remains an unanswered
    question.

    Fifth: The intervention of Pope Francis, who made a personal appeal on
    behalf of Mr. Gross to both Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, played a
    crucial role in Wednesday’s developments. So did his willingness to
    allow the Vatican to be the site of a crucial negotiating session
    between diplomats from the United States and Cuba. His role reflects the
    global consensus that the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic estrangement served no
    purpose.

    Sixth: President Obama promised that the United States would not relent
    in its efforts to help the Cuban people: “We are calling on Cuba to
    unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary
    restrictions on their political, social and economic activities.” That
    should remain the guiding principle of American policy toward Cuba,
    though it may be harder to achieve under the new rules, which expanded
    trade, travel and remittances.

    Seventh: “We continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to
    form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the
    political process,” the president said. Agreed. And until Cuba makes
    fundamental democratic reforms, the trade embargo should remain in place.

    Eighth: Friends and foes of this country in Latin America have been
    urging a succession of U.S. governments to make this change. Now they
    should urge Havana with equal persistence to allow free elections.

    No one should doubt the historic significance of the president’s
    decision. It required political courage, representing the end of an era
    and the beginning of a new one.

    The president has made a bet whose ultimate outcome no one can know.
    “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for
    a new approach,” he said. All who yearn to see freedom in Cuba can only
    hope this gamble pays off.

    Source: A roll of the dice on Cuba | The Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article4585921.html