Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cuba should free Alan Gross

Cuba should free Alan Gross
By Editorial, Saturday, July 30, 2:05 AM

ALAN P. GROSS, the U.S. Agency for International Development
subcontractor who committed what Cuba considers the unconscionable
offense of making the Internet available to members of its minuscule
Jewish community, has almost exhausted possible judicial appeals of his
15-year prison sentence.

Mr. Gross, 62, a resident of Potomac, was arrested in December 2009 as
he prepared to fly home from Havana. Convicted on trumped-up charges in
March this year, he appeared a few days ago before Cuba's highest
tribunal to appeal his conviction and plead for release. The outcome of
his appeal, expected in the coming days, is certain to be dictated one
way or another by Cuban leader Raul Castro — and will be a sign of
whether Cuba is remotely interested in better relations with Washington.

Cuba, besides its repressive ally Venezuela, is virtually the only place
in the Western Hemisphere where distributing laptop computers and
satellite phone equipment intended to connect people to the Internet —
Mr. Gross's supposed "crime" — could be construed as subversive. The
regime in Havana is so brittle and creaky that it blanches at the idea
of its subjects communicating too freely with the outside world, lest
they undermine a communist system whose attempts at economic development
have delivered scanty results.

There are plenty of humanitarian reasons to release Mr. Gross, who has
been confined for 19 months. Somewhat overweight when he was arrested,
Mr. Gross has lost 100 pounds, according to his wife and other American
visitors who have been allowed to meet with him; he also suffers from
gout, ulcers and arthritis. His daughter is struggling with cancer, and
his mother is reported to be in poor health.

Cuban authorities have portrayed Mr. Gross as a spy involved in an
enterprise aimed at undermining the regime. That seems unlikely in the
extreme. In fact, Mr. Gross, a veteran development worker who had
minimal command of Spanish, was part of a democratization project of the
sort the U.S. government runs in countries all over the world.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Gross was working for Development
Alternatives Inc., a Bethesda firm that had won a $6 million government
contract to promote democracy in Cuba. His work consisted mainly of
providing computers and satellite phones to Cuban Jews, a community
thought to number about 1,500, so they could access the Internet, whose
use is restricted in Cuba, and contact Jewish communities beyond Cuba's
shores. Not exactly a cloak-and-dagger project likely to bring the
Castro brothers to their knees.

The Obama administration has made it clear that any improvement in
relations with Cuba is on hold pending Mr. Gross's release. That's a
fitting response to the communist regime's knee-jerk behavior in
persecuting an American whose "crime," if any, may have been an excess
of naivete.

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