“President Obama needs to send a high-level envoy to Cuba, who has the authority to discuss the range of issues in the bilateral relationship and to take whatever decisions are necessary to bring Alan home,” attorney Jared Genser said.
At an event yesterday, Mrs. Gross put it this way: “What has happened or not happened between our government and the Cuban government is over, it is the past and neither country should dwell on it… [It is] the duty of the U.S. government to bring Alan home.”
Or, as she put it to the Baltimore Sun, describing her last visit to Mr. Gross: “He feels that the government sent him on a project, it didn’t work, and that’s the end of their responsibility. So he feels like a soldier left in the field to die.”
NBC reports today that Mr. Gross himself told a visitor, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, that (in Kornbluh’s words) “the United States and Cuba have to sit down and have a dialogue without preconditions… He told me that the first meeting should result in a non-belligerency pact being signed between the United States and Cuba.”
With Mr. Gross in captivity for three years now, he and his team are arguing that the Administration has a responsibility to get him back because he was working as a U.S. government operative. This is a new twist in the public discussion of the case. It is also one that begins to separate Mr. Gross and his team from the Obama Administration, which has seemed so far to view its responsibility as to demand Mr. Gross’ unconditional release, and to defend the USAID program.
Today’s State Department statement continues along that line. It doesn’t acknowledge the new appeals being made by Mr. Gross and his team. Reading it, you wouldn’t even get the idea that Mr. Gross is our guy, i.e. a U.S. government operative attempting to escape detection in Cuba. Instead, he is once again portrayed as a lifelong international humanitarian who was “simply facilitating communications.”
Having been over this ground a few times before (e.g. here and here), I’ll just say once again that this seems much more like a defense of the USAID program than an attempt to secure Mr. Gross’ release.
On the subject of U.S. government democracy programs, I just came across this provocative article by David Rieff published in The National Interest magazine, which is not a left-wing journal. It’s well worth reading. Rieff recounts some of the difficulties that U.S. democracy programs are encountering among governments that believe that Washington is trying to weaken them and to strengthen their opponents. It doesn’t mention the Gross case, perhaps because it’s such an extreme and unique example.
Only in the case of Cuba are the U.S. programs built on an explicit regime-change premise contained in the 1996 Helms-Burton law. We can like or dislike the law, and we can like or dislike the Cuban political system, but we can’t avoid the operational consequence: a program like that is going to be hard to operate within Cuba if the Cuban government cares about its own survival and if it cares to defend Cuban sovereignty. As Mr. Gross found out too late, it cares about both.