Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Our Man, Cuba’s Pawn

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This post is a follow-up to my Unleash the Googles entry from last week. But now I would like to specifically focus on the human rights implications of Alan Gross’ detention.

Why is the U.S. keeping so quiet… still? This has been a vexing question. There’s no grand geopolitical strategy behind our silence.

Alan Gross did not sign a privacy waiver. That simple. Out of respect for this request, the U.S. won’t say anything about Gross—either in his defense or in defense of our policies. This is true even though it’s in our best interests to clarify what Gross was doing and what equipment he was distributing.

For now, it’s all very murky, enhancing the cloak and dagger mystique around this 60-year-old guy from the suburbs of Washington DC. This makes the nature of his work seem all the more insidious.

We could be rebutting more aggressively the charges that the Obama administration is still Cuba’s arch enemy, working stealthily to topple its regime. Gross is being turned into the predictable tool for the Castros and the Chavistas to denounce the U.S., reminding me of how Fidel Castro sought to use Elián González as a pawn against the United States.

This is frustrating for everyone who wants to explain the program, defend Mr. Gross and our policy. Especially frustrated must be our man in Havana, who is probably in a state of discomfort that I hope to never know personally.

For one, we do know Gross was not there simply doing humanitarian work; there were other objectives. Gross, a subcontractor for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) democracy program in Cuba, was working for an agency that lists “a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy” as the goal of its policy toward Cuba. This is hardly innocent in the minds of the Cuban government.

Raúl Castro accuses him of spying and distributing communications equipment. Gross was armed with what? Flash drives?

And why is it that too often in talking about our Cuba policy, human rights and political freedoms get slight mention?

Let’s stop sweeping that under the rug; it must be a higher priority as we hopefully craft new policy on Cuba. Gross’ arrest can at least serve as a reminder on this—and that Raúl Castro’s Cuba has not eased up on brutal tactics.

There’s no reason why we need to overlook these facts while moving forward in chipping away at the embargo.

Cuba’s action to hold Gross in this manner is an indicator that the repressive regime is alive and well, and not going anywhere. Meanwhile, there is a bright lining in this embarrassing situation for the United States.

The very fact that our government has kept quiet about this guy is in part emblematic of our value for human rights, personal privacy and decency.

Is there any reason why it would serve our national and strategic interests to put political freedom on the backburner? Instead, we can ride the high horse and show regional leadership, especially when regional bodies like the Organization of American States are not doing so.

Let’s not forget that political freedoms must be the bottom line as we go forward in re-examining and retooling our current ineffective policies. Where the U.S. sees the rights of humans, the Castro regime just sees pawns.

*Liz Harper is an americasquarterly.org contributing blogger based in Washington DC. To reach a blogger, send an email to: aqinfo@as-coa.org


Liz Harper is a contributing blogger to AQ Online based in Washington DC.

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