Opinion - the President's prisoner, stuck in Havana on Mother's Day weekend
Tonight Alan Gross remains in a Havana jail, a mere 30 months into a 15 year sentence for state security crimes. But Gross is neither a prisoner of Cuba nor of the Castro regime. Alan Gross is held captive by an archaic American policy towards the island, crafted by politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, who are determined to keep the Cold War alive 100 miles south of Miami, though it long ago fizzled out everywhere else.
The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be thinking of his mother, too, this weekend. And in the final analysis, Alan Gross is his prisoner.
We need not spend a moment acknowledging the brutality of the Castro regime for more than a half century, nor the disastrously failed Cuban revolution launched by a youthful Marxist firebrand who once upon a time rode triumphantly into Havana. However laudable his intentions may have been, he replaced one oppressive dictatorship with another. After the brief exhilaration of tossing out the old guard, it probably mattered little to the average Cuban that Fulgencio had been traded for Fidel. It was a distinction without a difference.
Nor need we linger reviewing the relentlessly aggressive posture of the United States towards Cuba after January 1959. History has recorded it all: The Bay of Pigs invasion (a fiasco). The 50 year old trade embargo which has cost the island $1 trillion in economic damages, but yet changed nothing - and which once again last year, for the 20th consecutive time, the U.N. voted to condemn (186-2; the U.S. and Israel cast the only negatives). The endless U.S. attempts to assassinate El Comandante (which would have been characterized as state-sponsored terrorism if they had been directed against an American president). There is no shortage of blame to pass around in analyzing how U.S.-Cuba relations got to this very messy point.
What does any of this have to do with the convicted Cuban spies, the Miami Five, who have been in federal jail houses since 1998, serving sentences of up to life imprisonment? Nothing. What does it have to do with Alan Gross, who was repeatedly sent into Cuba by a federal contractor to distribute high tech communication devices which everyone well knew flagrantly violated island law? Nothing. They were pawns in the plans of the powerful. They did the bidding of others. Their motives were political zeal, idealism, national loyalty - and at times lucre.
These six hostages of the Cold War should be traded by the U.S. and Cuba without delay, as Havana has proposed time and again. The president need not pardon anybody, nor declare anyone innocent. He can simply commute sentences to time served. The Five have been locked up for 14 years, so it wouldn't be much of a gift anyway. Obama needs to disregard protests of the embittered Cuban exile community in Florida (a powerful lobby to be sure), put aside partisan politics and resist strident voices from the right, focus away from the consequences in November and towards compassion. It would also serve as the first step towards the normalization of relations with Havana, long overdue.
The pursuit of legal justice, one of the greatest human virtues, may define a nation and distinguish it from its neighbors. But there is another virtue, compared to which mere justice pales. That virtue is mercy. Justice comes from ordinary courts of law. Mercy comes from the wisdom and bravery of leaders. Anyone can dispense justice. Only the fearless can show mercy.
Nov. 16 - Now that Alan Gross has in net effect admitted that he went to Cuba to engage in activities which he knew, or strongly suspected, were illegal, the claims of complete innocence which so many have peddled on his behalf have completely evaporated. Gross sues U.S. government and subversion contractor, claiming he was deceived. With a clear conscience president Obama could and should swap him immediately for the Miami Five. American officials have not told the truth about this case.
Dec. 8 - Even the rabidly anti-Casto El Nuevo Herald, a sister paper to the Miami Herald, is finally, begrudgingly, recognizing that Alan Gross is not a hostage, but rather a pawn of the United States who was properly arrested while carrying out subversive activities which have been condemned by the United Nations as a violation of Cuban sovereignty. In a column today a professor at the University of Denver's School of International Studies argues that the time for negotiation of the three year old diplomatic stalemate is here: Alan Gross: por una solución negociada. The article recognizes that the fate of the Miami Five is implicitly on the table, right along with that of Gross. They will either go hand in hand or neither will go anywhere, and Gross will remain in Havana to serve out his sentence.
Nov. 11 - Esposa de Alan Gross espera que Obama ponga más atención a su caso
Sept. 9 - Cuba dice estar dispuesta a negociar por Alan Gross
MGRR reports on the Alan Gross case and Cuban affairs
René González, one of the Miami Five, can remain in Cuba if he renounces U.S. citizenship
Alan Gross sues U.S. government and its contractor, claiming he was deceived about Cuba gig
Cuba lambasts U.S. embargo at U.N. General Assembly
U.S. refuses to to swap Miami Five for convicted American smuggler Alan Gross
Judy Gross urges Obama, "please bring my husband home"
U.S. judge allows Miami Five member to visit dying brother in Cuba
Fidel Castro greets Pope Benedict XVI - but no jail pass for Alan Gross
Two American senators visit Cuba
Alan Gross knew USAID mission was illegal and lied to Cuban authorities
U.S. double standard on prisoners hurts Alan Gross
Alan Gross y Los Cinco de Miami
Colombia's president Santos calls for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations
U.S. embargo of Cuba turns 50
Why the Cuban Embargo should be abandoned
United Nations condemns U.S. embargo of Cuba (186-2) for the 20th time