USAID contractor Alan Gross was arrested more than 13 months ago and has yet to face charges in the Cuban judicial system. A pre-trial detention of this length is an abuse in my view, all the more so because it is hard to conceive that Cuba’s investigation of his activities is yielding any new information so long after the fact. Regardless of one’s view of his activities or Cuban law, I think it’s beyond dispute that the man should be tried or released.
Mr. Gross’ plight is a major concern to the Obama Administration, which speaks up regularly on his behalf. The Administration seems to be delaying initiatives in U.S. policy and in diplomacy with the Cuban government until the case is resolved. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said last week that expanded contacts through greater U.S. citizen travel is “still our objective,” but that Washington has told Cuban officials that “it’s very difficult to move to greater engagement in the context where they have continued to hold Alan Gross” (see Washington Post article).
One can debate whether such linkage makes sense for U.S. interests, or for those of Mr. Gross himself. (My answers: no, and almost certainly not.)
Cuba’s responsibility is clear: for his arrest, his welfare, and his long detention without trial.
But I’m curious if anyone in the Obama Administration bears a different kind of responsibility, for carrying out an amateur-hour covert operation in the first place. The facts seem to be that Mr. Gross speaks little to no Spanish, he entered on tourist visas, and he installed satellite communications equipment. How did the State Department expect this operation to turn out when they sent him to Cuba?