No more `Open hand' -- Obama must get tough with Castros
BY FRANK CALZON
President Barack Obama is coming to Miami, and American Alan Gross
remains in prison in Cuba. Gross was distributing telephones and laptops
to Jewish organizations in Cuba when he was arrested Dec. 5. Since then
he's been accused, but never formally charged, of spying for the United
For a month the regime refused to allow American diplomats to visit
Gross, who was working with the U.S. Agency for International
Development in a congressionally mandated program to promote democracy
in Cuba. Gen. Raúl Castro perversely declared Gross's arrest proved
Obama's offer to extend an ``open hand'' to regimes willing to ``open
their closed fist'' was a sham.
President Obama has tried ``open hand'' diplomacy in Cuba to no avail.
He lifted restrictions on Cuban-American remittances and visits. When
the regime complained of Christmas lights at the U.S. mission in Havana,
they were turned off. The State Department called off distribution of a
Penguin biography written for children about President Obama. It
acquiesced to Cuban demands that dissident leaders not be invited to
functions with members of the foreign diplomatic corps. Havana enforces
many restrictions on U.S. diplomats; there are no similar measures on
Cuban diplomats here.
Havana's response to this diplomacy was to snub Obama's request that it
reduce the high tax it imposes on remittances (a real windfall for the
regime); and Cuba joined Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in vilifying Obama. The
Castros also propagate the falsehood that while others try to help the
victims of Haiti's earthquake, the United States uses the catastrophe to
occupy Haiti and abuse its people.
When is enough, enough?
Negotiations are taking place to win Gross' release, and Havana wants
the United States to end its AID-financed programs promoting democracy
and free information in Cuba. Unforgivably, those programs were placed
on hold for months, and today function in a very limited way. The regime
is prepared to hold Gross hostage to end the programs permanently, and
its fist is as hard as ever.
But Washington has options to obtain Gross' release, and to prevent the
Castros from arresting and holding other traveling Americans hostage.
Instead of asking what the regime wants in exchange for releasing Gross,
America should be telling Havana what consequences it faces if it
doesn't release Gross. He is not the first foreigner to be arrested
distributing information or forbidden tools of world communication, but
the others were released and expelled.
That Havana chooses to make Gross an issue suggests that the Castros
think they can bully the president. Here are things Washington can do to
win Gross's release:
• Set a deadline for his release, warning that if he is not, all
American travel to Cuba will be suspended because Americans aren't safe
• Announce the full resumption of AID's pro-democracy program, keeping
faith with Congress, which has funded it, and with commitments made to
Florida Sen. George LeMieux last year.
• End the impunity enjoyed by Cuban officers who murdered Americans in
international airspace by turning in their names to Interpol.
• Increase the power of Radio Martí to overcome Cuban jamming and issue
an executive order for aircraft broadcasting TV Martí to fly into
international airspace so that Cubans know what is going on.
• Within the constraints of American law, treat and hold Cuban spies
under the same conditions as Gross is being held.
• Impose the same housing and other restrictions on Cuban diplomats that
American diplomats suffer in Cuba.
• Review the reduction of staff and closing of the U.S. Interests
Section in Cuba and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., a
measure feared by the regime.
• Distribute through American embassies abroad a White Paper on the
Obama administration's efforts to reach out to Havana and the Castros'
negative responses. Their hostility has been demonstrated by their
actions and unrelenting campaigns of disinformation.
The arrest of Gross is an outrage, as is the continuing abuse of the
Cuban people. Failing to react strongly serves to feed the Castro
brothers' sense of impunity and to embolden their continued thuggish
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in