This is a guest note by Lawrence Wilkerson, Visiting Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, and Arturo Lopez-Levy, Lecturer in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Dawn Gable contributed to this article.
A Road Map to Solve Alan Gross case
by Lawrence Wilkerson and Arturo Lopez-Levy
The trial in Cuba against USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, which will begin on March 4, presents an opportunity for the Cuban government to both demonstrate the legitimate basis for nationalist defense against U.S. interventionist policy and its good will towards the millions of potential American travelers to Cuba.
By the end of the trial, it should be clear that U.S. travelers to Cuba have nothing to fear if they keep a healthy distance from regime change programs and that Washington and Havana would both gain from dismantling hostile attitudes.
The trial serves three Cuban government purposes:
(1) It will mobilize the nationalist sentiments of the Cuban people to denounce foreign interference in Cuba’s internal affairs. The trial must clarify whether Gross informed the leaders of the Jewish community in Cuba of his link to the USAID Cuba program sponsored under the auspices of the Helms-Burton Act. If not, this will expose a design flaw of a semi-covert subversive program in which the USAID placed Cubans at risk of long prison sentences without their informed consent, thus violating basic standards of international development assistance. By now it is evident that the Bush Administration, which conceived the project, was not interested in promoting Cuban civil society, but rather in using religious solidarity as a political weapon.
(2) It will set an example and deter other Cubans, Americans, and nationals of third countries from participating in regime change programs under the Helms-Burton Act. No one after Alan Gross will be able to claim ignorance of the risk involved. Everything related to section 109 of the Helms Burton Act carries the stigma of illegal interference in Cuba’s sovereign affairs and is punishable in Cuba by up to 20 years imprisonment.
(3) It will generate international condemnation of US policy and invigorate solidarity with Cuban sovereignty. By exposing the unilateralist, covert and interventionist nature of the USAID Cuba program, the trial will mobilize international opinion, not only triggering a more vigorous rejection of the U.S. embargo, but also tarnishing the credibility of the USAID in other countries. It is a blow, intangible but significant, to President Obama’s foreign policy that focuses on the use of US popular appeal and bridge building. To the extent that the impact in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and even El Salvador and Argentina, for example, will be greater, the State Department and the U.S. Congress cannot ignore the costs of disguising a Cuba regime change policy as international development assistance.
Undermine the Helms-Burton Act but set Alan Gross free
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson’s hope that Gross be tried and sent home is reasonable. Alan Gross is a victim of the hostility between the two countries and a policy that is not typical of American values and standards. His and his family’s ordeal has attracted considerable humanitarian solidarity. As the first US citizen arrested under the law to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cuba, Gross should be given the benefit of the doubt and become an example of Cuba’s goodwill towards the people of the United States.
If the Obama administration offers to facilitate a favorable international climate for the economic reforms taking place in Cuba, the utility of retaining Alan Gross, once the trial has concluded, would decline for the Cuban government.
Once the dividends related to the denouncement of the policy outlined in the Helms-Burton Act are obtained, the only benefit for the Cuban government in keeping Gross in prison would be the frequent mention of his case in relation to the situation of the five Cubans who were sentenced in Miami on charges of espionage in trials considered by Amnesty International and the UN group on arbitrary detention as lacking guarantees of fairness and impartiality. Although the cases must be analyzed separately, it is worth noting that the lawyer representing Gross at trial also serves as legal counselor for the families of the five.
In these circumstances a visit to Havana by the two highest ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar would be very helpful. Such a visit could be preceded by a delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Through interacting with the Cuban office of religious affairs and the leadership of the Cuban Jewish community, they would learn firsthand how their brothers in faith reject the Helms-Burton Act and any misuse of inter-religious contacts as a political weapon for regime change.
Journalists could accompany the entourage and report on the island’s welcoming attitude toward US travelers. The visiting US delegation could meet the relatives of the five Cubans imprisoned in the U.S., hearing their views on that trial and becoming aware of the need for political courage on both sides of the Florida Straits to end the policies that led to the arrests of the Cubans and of Gross.
A Cuban humanitarian gesture towards the Gross family would add impetus to the advocates of a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba and recognize those many Americans who oppose the embargo. It might also create momentum for a substantial American gesture of d