Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Support" for Alan Gross

I want to note three recent items on the saga of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor now serving his third year in Cuban jail.

First is a vapid USAID/State Department response to this critique of USAID’s capers in Cuba. Obama appointees Mark Feierstein and Michael Posner claim that the author of the critique, Fulton Armstrong, “urges acceptance of the Cuban regime’s laws,” which he does not. He merely mentions Cuban law as an operational reality, as USAID has long done in its own program documents, pointing out that USAID programs contravene Cuban law. By that token, one could level the same cheap accusation at USAID. As for the Cuba programs being “comparable to international efforts in support of democracy elsewhere,” I’m interested to know how many other programs are run by USAID with no office in the country, no agreement with the local government, in contravention of local law, in a manner that attempts to be clandestine, and under a U.S. law that promotes regime change. It doesn’t matter what you or I or Alan Gross or Feierstein or Posner think of Cuban law or USAID’s way of operating. What matters is that USAID has chosen a style of operation in that environment that puts its operatives in predictable danger, and when things go sour, its response is to whine in public and defend the program rather than help get the guy out. Again, if your kids want to become covert operatives, send them to the CIA, not to this crew.

Then there’s a Washington Post editorial that calls for Gross’ release, something everyone wants. It argues that Cuba’s prisoners here should not be released because they acted as “unregistered foreign agents.” And it calls Gross a “would-be humanitarian;” while there’s no basis for doubting his good intentions, he seems to be a businessman in the first instance who was executing a $585,000 contract.

Then there’s an item by Elliott Abrams in the Weekly Standard that accuses members of the Park Avenue Synagogue of having “no shame at all” for traveling to Cuba for a week of religious fellowship while Gross is in jail.

Unlike many of his other writings, this one doesn’t delve into the thinking of the Bush Administration, in which he served. (See, for example, Elliott's interesting discussion of the Bush decision to re-open diplomatic relations with our friends in the erstwhile Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which included his expression of hope “that our embassy folks, visitors, academics and businessmen would – in the long run – pull Libya toward being a more open society.”)

Which is too bad because from the outside and in hindsight, it looks as if the Bush Administration’s strategy toward Cuba was a little cynical, to win hearts and minds along Calle Ocho rather than to change Cuba; that it did so in part by doing what government always does when short on ideas, which is to heave taxpayer money at the problem ($45 million in one year); and that it turned to Beltway contractors to spend so much money, where every red cent was accounted for but where ideas such as Mr. Gross’ prospered readily because they checked the right boxes and kept up the “burn rate” of your money and mine. If “cynical” seems too harsh a word, how else to explain Bush’s massive, expensive strategy to create pressure for change in Cuba that shied away from touching our no-questions-asked immigration policy toward Cubans?

Back to the shameless Park Avenue Synagogue, Elliott argues that American Jews should refrain from engaging with Cuba as long as Gross is in jail. In other words, people who engage effectively should stop in solidarity with someone whose efforts had zero results save for his own imprisonment, the potential endangerment of those he wanted to help, and the waste of taxpayer money.

When the New Yorkers make their trip, they will see that engagement by Jews around the world has helped Cuba’s small Jewish community through fraternal and religious visits, by sending rabbis to a community that has none, by promoting trips to Israel for religious education, by rebuilding the synagogue, by providing Internet connections, and by stocking the synagogue’s wonderful upstairs pharmacy that probably helps twenty Cubans outside the congregation for every Cuban Jew who uses its medicines. None of this help has cost taxpayers one dime and none of it has been provided under false pretenses, which Cuba’s Jews appreciate.

Elliott should join the Park Avenue group. To feel better, he can stay in a crummy hotel or a private home. Like anyone with a sense of shame about wasting taxpayer money, he would find himself wondering about the money the Bush Administration shoveled in the direction of Cuba, and to what effect.


Anonymous said...

Great post..... many great points.

One I really like is the proposition that Elliot go to Cuba himself (stay in private home) and really get to know Cuba.

I am struck how naive and out of touch are the discussion/diatribe by Elliot (as well as the babalu types on calle ocho). This 'out of touch' - ness is a direct result of being so isolated from the real cuba (and not having any close family /friends down there). They also seem like they haven't really travel/known third world countries too. B/c anyone who really knows Latin America/Caribbean (and other cultures) would not say some the silly things , like Jewish americans travelling to cuba are shameful (LOL).

In the end, it is also b/c babalu and elliot direct their discussion/arguments toward right-wing Miami community (and neo-con interest group politics) NOT about real cubans

Anonymous said...

Let's stop beating around the Bush, get down to brass tacks and try to find a solution to the problem.

The Cubans have already said that they will not return Gross unless they get their five agents in US jails out.

Not getting him home would harm Obama with Jewish voters on an election year.

A one for five swap would help him with the Jewish vote but would harm him with everyone else because it would open him to the charge of being weak and letting himself being blackmailed by a third world totalitarian regime.

It's in the Cuban government's interest to cut some sort of a deal with Obama before the US elections to avoid making him lose votes and favor a future Republican Administration.

They must also forestall the danger that if a deal is not reached Obama will take back the measures he made in favor of Cuban American visits and aid to family in the island in order to appear stronger to avoid losing votes.

So the stage is set for the solution. What is needed is an equal swap the five Cuban agents in US jails for Gross + a numbr of political prisoners in Cuba.

General Rafael Del Pino, the top Cuban defector in the US has suggested acceptable candidates five Cuban military and Ministry of Interior officers imprisoned for political crimes and espionage.

But there are other possible political prisoners that could be candidates.

There is also no reason why the number should be equal. The Cuban government wants to empty its jails and to give the world the impression that it is less repressive. It would also like to benefit Obama politically.

So for all these reasons it would be even willing to make a swap with Obama that would make him come out clearly on the winning side.

Instead of Gross and the five officers for its five agents in the US it will probably be willing to offer even more political prisoners.

The US government should take advantage of the negotiating opportunities and seek the liberation of as many Cuban political prisoners as possible before the elections.

This would set the stage for new negotiations to gradually lift the embargo in exchange for Cuban government reform measures in favor of a democratic transition during a second Obama administration.

All of which would weaken the right wing Republican political machinery in South Florida and benefit the Democratic party in future elections in a very crucial swing state.

Let's stop talking kk and solve the problem!


Anonymous said...

I feel very sorry for Alan Gross and for his family who, independently of any crime or misdeamenor he may have committed, is obviously being used as a negotiating chip by the Cuban government.

I am specially concerned because he is a member of a minority that has been historically been persecuted, scapegoated and been made to suffer the consequences of events beyond their control such as the Cruzades and the Black Death.

Very few historical events have occurred in which the innocent Jews have not been adversely affected.

Many educated Cubans have a deep sense of guilt and shame because of the role of our Spanish ancestors played in these persecutions.

So it is with special anguish that I see this poor man caught in the middle of a Cuban political conflict and both Cuban political parties trying to use him manipulate Jewish public opinion to influence the US government in favor or against a prisoner swap.

Cubans are not antisemitic. We welcomed into our homeland thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution and accepted them as part of our people.

Later we have been sorry to see many of them voluntarily chose to leave Cuba. But we feel glad that those that left did so because of economic hardship not because they were mistreated or persecuted because we treated them as fellow Cuban citizens while they lived among us.

What makes me feel so bad is that in an involuntary manner we Cubans have recreated a situation that has occurred frequently in history.

A poor Jew is paying for the consequences of an external conflict over which he has no control.

This is why I feel such a sense of urgency in seeking a solution to this situation.

Believe me when I say that, from the bottom of my heart, I wish Alan Gross to be freed as soon as possible and to be reunited with his family.

I also would like the Cuban people never to be involved in doing any new injustices to any of our Jewish brothers be they fellow Cubans or members of any other nationality.