Alan Gross's Appeal in Cuba, and Then What?

Alan Gross will have his appeal to Cuba's Supreme Court on July 22nd.  Will his conviction and 15 year sentence stand?  And if it does, will Cuba's leaders feel pressure to step in to commute the sentence and release him? 

A few weeks ago, I attended a talk offered by Bob Pastor, former National Security Advisor to President Photo by Adalberto Roque for AFP/Getty Images: Carter, who traveled with the former president this spring on his second trip to the island.  Pastor said in on-the-record comments - and I'm paraphrasing here from notes I took - that Carter left Cuba with the impression that Raul Castro wants to find a way to release Gross.  Many will say (and I agree), wait a minute, if he really wants to release Gross (whether because he believes Gross doesn't belong in prison, should be allowed to go home to cancer-stricken family members, or whether he even just wants the political stumbling block to U.S. engagement removed), he could do so right now. 

Nonetheless, if Raul Castro has either his own, his brother's, or other Cuban government hardliners' pride on his mind (and in Cuba, the US government program that sent Gross to the island is seen as an illegal foreign intervention aiming to bring down the Cuban government), what will convince him it's time to step in?  Cuba hasn't exactly jumped at U.S. demands that he be unconditionally released.  Requests by reasonable interlocutors, Carter among them, have yet to be fulfilled. 

Raul Castro seems like a process-oriented sort of leader.  So, my hope is that if the Supreme Court declines to intervene, that Raul Castro will then step in on the grounds that Gross has exhausted every legal option at his disposal and that NOW is an appropriate moment for Cuba's president to commute his sentence. 

If Cuba releases Gross on humanitarian grounds with a warning that the next one won't be so lucky, it's made its point loud and clear without forcing Alan Gross to pay an even heavier price for his government's stubborn inability to learn the lesson. 

Surely, if the political will existed in the United States (and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is admirably taking on a calcified, ineffective policy and program), there's a way to offer support to Cuban human rights defenders and political prisoners' families without meddling in the lives of many Cubans who prefer to resolve their problems without American intervention, and without putting more American civilians in harm's way.  But I'm not holding my breath, and I hope, for Alan Gross's sake, that Cuba's leaders don't either.

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