The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States during Obama and Raul Castro’s first terms has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 3, 2009. Shirking the first requirement of pragmatism, namely “facing the facts,” the Obama Administration has created its own fictional narrative that contradict even its own documents now available to the public.
Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based on Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba.
Beginning today, the Cuban policy of requiring citizens to obtain an invitation to visit abroad and permission from domestic authorities to exit the country, is no more. This is a profoundly significant change. Given that Cubans will still need to procure visitor or immigrant visas to most other countries and most without family abroad will have a hard time coming up with the money for the trip, it won’t likely cause a rush for the exits. But the new rules pave the way for a new relationship between country and citizen, and between those who stay and those who have left. The door will now remain open between each, both emotionally and financially.
Though millions of Cubans can now, in principal if not in practical terms, leave the island as they sit fit, there are exceptions for national security and other reasons, and it remains to be seen how Cuban authorities intend to apply them. Last week we learned that Cuban doctors – in whom the Cuban government invests much and expects to return the investment either at home or abroad (on behalf of the Cuban government which contracts them out) – will in fact be free to travel under the new rules. But will critics of the government be free to come and go? The more broadly these new rules extend to Cubans, the more pressure it could put on the United States to change its migration policies toward the island.
If optics matter, we may soon see the administration use its executive authority to further loosen its own restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba (to the extent it can). Yes, you might have heard, Americans must seek permission from the U.S. Department of Treasury in order to be allowed to use our passports to travel to Cuba. The irony of the U.S. “[welcoming] any reforms that allow Cubans to depart from and return to their country freely,’’ as a State Department spokesman put it last week, without doing the same for our own population, will now be painfully obvious.
But it’s not just about optics. It’s about opportunity and the political space to seize it. These Cuban travel reforms provide the Obama administration with an historic opportunity to end our open-door migration policy for Cubans that with every passing year becomes more untenable – especially in a political cycle likely to see action on immigration reform. No other nationality on Earth enjoys the benefits Cubans do, including the right to step foot on U.S. soil illegally and qualify for a green card one year after doing so, and collecting generous adjustment benefits at taxpayer expense to boot.
[Assistant Secretary of State] Jacobson also noted that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights requires governments to recognize their citizens’ right to travel freely, a right “that we have certainly long sought for Cuban citizens along with all others in the world.”“So it is a good thing that it is being announced, that some of the restrictions on Cubans to travel hopefully will be reduced, if not done away with,” she added.Miami Herald, 10/20/12
1) It is long past time for the US to suspend or repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act. Cubans who claim political asylum must meet the same case by case requirements as other nationalities.In the interim Cubans who enter with a legal visa must be deemed ineligible to claim permanent residence.
One would have to go back to John Quincy Adams, who served in the U.S. diplomatic service from the age of 17, to find a predecessor better pedigreed than John Kerry to lead the U.S. State Department. The son of a diplomat, Kerry is a war veteran, senior senator, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Few experiences have had greater influence on Kerry’s foreign policy views than his decades-long relationship with Vietnam, where Kerry served as a swift boat captain during the Vietnam War.
Kerry’s experience in Vietnam, where visceral ideological attitudes prevailed over rational analysis, prompted the future senator to advocate for a more realistic course for U.S. policy. A decorated veteran, John Kerry became a spokesman for veterans against the war. He learned that to promote U.S. values and interests requires awareness of the relative nature of power and the force of nationalism in the post-colonial world.
Over what was an especially painful weekend here in the United States, as the nation reeled over an elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, a small bit of good news broke for one Spanish citizen, Angel Carromero, held in a Cuban prison since the summer. Carromero, a young conservative politician who traveled to Cuba last summer to bolster dissidents on the island and tragically ended up driving the car in which two Cuban dissidents - including Nobel Prize nominee Oswaldo Paya - lost their lives last summer, is heading home to Spain to serve the remainder of his prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter. How did a similiarly politically charged case such as Carromero's get defused in less that six months, while an American, Alan Gross, remains in a Cuban prison for more than 3 years now? Apparently, by way of bilateral negotiations. That, and what looked to me to be a small, tactical charm offensive undertaken by the Spanish government.
It has become commonplace to say that Latin America was absent from the 2012 election campaign in the United States. It is understandable, because the region was mentioned only once in the candidates’ foreign policy debate (by Governor Romney, when he referred to the potential of free trade agreements in the hemisphere), and it got almost no attention in campaign speeches. However, as with much conventional wisdom, the devil is in the definitions. If Latin America’s impact on U.S. politics is viewed in terms of relations between governments, the statement is correct; if, on the other hand, the concept includes the public, then the region was present like never before in the elections.
It is time to think about Latin American policy within a broader framework than old-fashioned nationalism. The political borders of transnational societies in the U.S. and the rest of the hemisphere have little to do with their legal boundaries. Latin America and the United States do not start or end with the Rio Grande or the Caribbean Sea. With their many, non-exclusive identities, Latin American and Caribbean Diasporas are increasingly important in the U.S. and in their home countries. The rigid cultural/linguistic/religious divide between indigenous/Hispanic/Catholic “Latin America” and “Anglo-Saxon/Protestant/white” United States needs to be revised.
Could the end really be very, very near for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez? If it comes before his January 10, 2013 swearing in, thus triggering a new presidential election just 30 days later, can his vice president, Nicolas Maduro step into his shoes and keep his coalition together to continue governing in his mold? Or, could it mean that Henrique Capriles, whom Chavez defeated in this fall's presidential election, gets a second shot at the presidency?
These are the questions Venezuela watchers are asking as they anxiously wait to see how Chavez, who has traveled this week to Cuba for his third cancer surgery in the last year and a half, pulls through this latest test. The fact that Chavez's cancer returned so quickly after his announcement last summer that he was cancer-free doesn't bode well for the Venezuelan president's prospects (not least, his prospects of being able to take office and govern in the coming months). And with Chavez himself acknowleging the precariousness of his situation by naming his preferred successor, his vice president, it seems all but certain that Venezuelans are in for a change in leadership in the coming days, weeks or months. This possibility naturally could have profound implications for Venezuela's economy, which faces significant and growing challenges ahead, especially given the outsize role oil (and oil prices) plays in the economy.
These questions may again be put off if Chavez manages to recover and take office for some months. But with the writing clearly on the wall, many Cuba watchers note that the Cuban government, so reliant on Chavez's close economic cooperation and patronage, can not afford to push its own urgent questions aside. What would happen if a new Venezuelan does not continue heavy investment in and assistance to Cuba? Will Cuba's economy go into a freefall if Venezuela backs off?
With the Obama administration and Congressional Republican leaders’ current stalemate over the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations as the appropriate backdrop, an American government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba hopes to force the most infamously stalemated parties of all – the United States and Cuba - to the negotiating table.
Three years ago, as he completed his 5th trip of the year to the island, Alan P. Gross was arrested and after a lengthy investigation, was found guilty of crimes against the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Cuba. Gross was hired on a $600,000 subcontract (his employer was USAID grantee DAI) to set up several wireless internet networks around the island which could be hidden from the Cuban government using an "alternative SIM card" often used by U.S. intelligence agencies. Three years and more than 100 pounds (lost during his incarceration) later, Gross wants the U.S. and Cuba to sit down together and negotiate a non-belligerency pact.
Given the history between our two countries, such a pact would mark a true turning point, but it may be as hard to come by as ever. The State Department is refusing to move its own agenda forward with Cuba while Gross remains in prison. But having tied its hands thusly, State has also not taken any (visible) steps to secure his release. Though former Governor Richardson made a private trip to Havana more than a year ago to seek Gross's release, and says he suggested "a process" to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of terrorist states, the Cubans rebuffed him, perhaps because they were unwilling to negotiate with someone who did not represent the U.S. government, perhaps because he pushed too hard, too publicly - threatening not to leave until he saw Mr. Gross - and perhaps because Cuban officials were indignant about being offered, as a political trade, removal from a list on which they don't think they belong.
Of Mr. Gross’s activities, State officials have said little other than to claim that he was merely trying to connect the Jewish community across Cuba with better access to each other and to the world, and to insist on his immediate, unconditional release. The U.S. government has sought to paint Gross as nothing more than a humanitarian aid worker who broke no Cuban laws. It’s hardly an invitation to a serious discussion with Cuban authorities holding Mr. Gross when it is clear that Gross did break Cuban laws (more than one), and that the U.S. government sent him there specifically to do so.
For its part, Cuba has not been much more cooperative. While Cuban officials have made very plain their position that Gross – and the U.S. law that authorized his and other USAID activities on the island – violated Cuban sovereignty, they’ve dropped few and often contradictory clues as to whether Mr. Gross could hope for any early release. It could well be because there are dueling opinions in the highest ranks in Havana about whether to make a gesture which could go unanswered, or to extract something from the U.S. for his return.
MIAMI (Reuters) - The wife of Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor jailed in Cuba for crimes against the state, said she hopes President Barack Obama's re-election will soon help lead to her ailing husband's release from the communist-ruled country....
"The U.S. government sent him there, they sent him on a project, and they need to take responsibility for getting this man home," Judy Gross told Reuters in an interview late on Friday.
Calling her husband a "pawn" in an unfortunate game between two countries just 90 miles apart, she said she believed Obama's re-election could now help his administration push harder for Gross's freedom, even if it means making possible concessions to Cuba that are opposed by conservative Cuban-American lawmakers....
The United States needs to sit down with Cuba, even if they're saying 'we only want the Cuban Five,'" Gross said.
"They can't leave him there. They have to keep trying, and we'll keep pushing them," she said.
Push indeed. A week later, Alan and Judy filed suit against the US government and Development Alternatives Incorporated for $60 million, as reported by Reuters, “blaming them for his imprisonment and not warning him about the risks he faced”.
I have been fairly harsh here and elsewhere about the irresponsible attitude of the State Department and DAI regarding the fate of their contract agent Alan Gross. However my language was mild compared to charges by Alan and Judy:
“since December 3, 2009. Mr. Gross is imprisoned in Cuba due to his work on a project that Defendant United States negligently directed, organized, and oversaw”
“Defendant DAI engaged in this behavior – putting profits before safety”
“One of its objectives is to '[d]evelop and . . . activate plans for launching a rapid-response programmatic platform that will meet USAID’s interest for having and coordinating an on-island presence.'”
“Defendants also ignored Mr. Gross’ own expressions of concern about the Project, opting instead to continue an operation from which Defendant DAI stood to benefit financially and that Defendant United States was committed to ideologically.”
“using Mr. Gross as a pawn in its overall Cuban policy efforts”
“Defendant United States’ breaches of its duties were a direct and proximate cause of Mr. Gross’ detention and imprisonment in Cuba”
“Defendant DAI’s breaches of its duties were a direct and proximate cause of Mr. Gross’ detention and imprisonment in Cuba”
(More extended excerpts with citations are here, as well as links to the full complaint.)