Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cuba should finally release Alan Gross

Cuba should finally release Alan Gross
By Editorial Board, Sunday, January 1, 12:29 AM

TWO LEADERS of Cuba's Jewish community have visited American Alan Gross
at the maximum-security military hospital in Havana where he has been
confined since Dec. 3, 2009. They lighted Hanukkah candles with him,
emerging later to pronounce him healthy and hopeful. But for Mr. Gross's
family in Bethesda, this report was cold comfort. Gaunt and depressed,
the 62-year-old was not among nearly 3,000 prisoners granted amnesty by
President Raul Castro on Dec. 23; though an ailing mother and daughter
await back home, Mr. Gross remains under a 15-year sentence for "acts to
undermine the integrity and independence" of Cuba.

Cuba's accusations stem from Mr. Gross's humanitarian work, on behalf of
a company that operates with U.S. democracy-promotion funds, to support
his fellow Jews on the island. Specifically, he helped them establish an
intranet and improve their access to the Internet.

No need to risk executing innocent people.

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Gross brought computer and
cellphone equipment with him when he came to the island, but on at least
one occasion, Cuban authorities searched his bags and let him bring the
equipment into the country after paying a tax. "I did nothing in Cuba
that is not done on a daily basis in millions of homes and offices
around the world," Mr. Gross told the court that found him guilty last
March. Alas, that's just the point: In Cuba, helping people communicate
freely can be a crime.

The Castro government sees Mr. Gross as a potential bargaining chip in
its campaign to win the return of five Cuban spies from the United
States. This effort has unfortunately received support from Hollywood
celebrities, Nobelists and even, after a fashion, former president Jimmy
Carter, who called for the spies' release when he visited Havana in
March (while saying their fate should be "separate" from that of Mr. Gross).

There is no equivalence, moral or otherwise, between the illegal
espionage of the Cubans and the conduct of Mr. Gross. The five Cubans
were sentenced to long prison terms in 2001 for, among other things,
operating as undeclared foreign agents and infiltrating U.S. military
installations in South Florida. All are acknowledged intelligence
officers, unlike Mr. Gross, a would-be humanitarian who got himself
caught up in the U.S.-Cuban dispute over U.S. efforts to promote civil
society on the island.

Yet Cuban officials now link the cases. Referring to the five
intelligence agents, the president of Cuba's parliament, Ricardo
Alarcon, has cynically called on "the Jewish community in the U.S." to
"persuade American politicians that it's time to put an end to this
injustice and, in the process, find other humanitarian solutions."

Though the Obama administration is working diplomatic channels for Mr.
Gross's release, it has wisely refused to entertain swapping the Cuban
spies for him. At most, once Mr. Gross is free, the administration might
consider asking the federal court in Florida to permit the exit to Cuba
of the one convicted spy who has finished his prison time. A dual
U.S.-Cuban citizen, he is now serving three years of parole.

But former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson floated that idea during
his visit to Havana in October, and the Cubans turned him down flat.
Such are the vagaries of the Communist state, whose long list of victims
has tragically grown to include Alan Gross. The U.S. government should
keep trying to bring him home — without yielding to Cuban extortion.

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