Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Defending the USAID program

A group of Congressmen have suggested that in its response to the detention of USAID contractor Alan Gross in Cuba, the Administration is trying to appease the Cuban dictatorship,” and they urge the Administration to demand his immediate release.

Separately, I have found that if you examine the USAID program’s legal foundations and Cuba’s reaction to the program in Cuban law, one gets accused of “practically justifying the detention, assuming the judicial perspective of a totalitarian regime.” That charge was aimed at me at Penultimos Dias, as if citing a position and adopting it are the same thing.

Mr. Gross’ problem is that the Administration, Congress, USAID, and his employer sent him to carry out a project in Cuba. That means he’s in Cuba’s legal jurisdiction. It would be nice to examine some other country’s “judicial perspective,” but since he’s in hot water in Cuba, Cuba’s would seem to be the one that applies if our interest is to get him out of jail and to evaluate the U.S. government program that put him in this position.

Demanding his release is a fine idea, but that requires the State Department to make the demand face-to-face to Cuban officials. No one likes a situation where a USAID contractor is stuck in a communist legal system and our diplomats have to make a case for his release. We can assign blame to the Cuban government – fair enough, it arrested him – but the U.S. government and Mr. Gross’ employer would seem to be responsible for putting him in this mess in the first place.

I continue to believe that the best hope for Mr. Gross is that Cuban authorities come to the conclusion that they have made their point, and he can be released on a humanitarian basis. Let’s hope that happens.

But I am concerned that a public relations campaign executed last week with regard to his case may have worsened his predicament. I would say the campaign was done on Mr. Gross’ behalf, but it seems more a political defense of the USAID program than an effort to win his release. I hope I’m wrong. (See Reuters article, a fact sheet from a public relations firm, and this video from Mrs. Judy Gross.)

Some have speculated that Cuba arrested Mr. Gross to gain a bargaining chip for the Cuban Five, who are serving long sentences in U.S. jails.

Maybe so. But for now, the more salient connection seems to be that the Cuban Five were convicted of charges including operating here as unregistered foreign agents. Cuba admits that its agents were operating here but argues, among other things, that they should be pardoned because their intentions were good, they were really just fighting terrorism. That argument has gone nowhere in our government.

Last week’s campaign made the case that Mr. Gross’ intentions and activities were good. That argument is likely to go nowhere in the Cuban government.

I’m as much in favor of free satellite Internet service as the next guy, but as a practical matter – regardless of one’s views of the Cuban government, Cuban law, or Mr. Gross’ activities – assertions that the United States government has the right to run programs of its choosing in Cuba are not likely to unravel the predicament in which Mr. Gross finds himself.

Why? Because – and let’s note that people on my side of this debate are not usually the ones who have to drag this little factoid out – Cuba is a one-party state, guided by Leninist principles and defended by the closest thing to the Stasi that has ever existed in this hemisphere.

Those assertions about good U.S. intentions do, however, make for a defense for the USAID program.

What is Mr. Gross’ predicament?

Read the post below, and connect the dots yourself.


Anonymous said...

Basically he is screwed. Even without the political implications, the spying stuff and law 88, he was breaking the Cuban telecommunications law, importing restricted equipment and illegally trying to provide a service.

Thats pretty bad over there, and if they find that they were going to charge money for the service thats going to be even worse, from tax evasion to illicit enrichment and that can end with some properties confiscated and a few years more in prison for him.

I think the Cuban government has not presented any charge because they hope to use him to negotiate the liberation of the cuban five or similar and if he is tried and convicted that might be harder to do within their current legal framework.

In any case I agree that the reactions so far won't help his cause and further politicization of the issue will complicate things for him. After all he was breaking the cuban law, so he is going to be punished no matter what; how much will depend on the will of the judge, adding politics to the mix will screw things for him badly.


PLINIO said...

Phil, in your otherwise informative article on Gross' plight, you touch on Cuba's "world class" intelligence services, and you refer to the (more than 200) state security agents that are "employed" there. Why do we continue to use this arrangement, when (1) it obviously affects the security of the embassy and U.S. staffers, and (2) the arrangement, as you well know, violates the same international labor rights that are violated by the hotel operators and virtually all NON-US foreign investors in Cuba? Certainly cost cannot be a criterion. It's hard to understand the sheer folly of granting free entry to several platoons from a "world-class" intelligence service to 6 or 7 of the embassy's 8 floors PLUS to the residence of Foreign Service officers stationed in Havana, including the Chief of USINT!