Pressure to release U.S. contractor shifts to the White House

There may be a shift in the thinking of people who are working for the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year jail sentence in Cuba for working to subvert the Cuban government on behalf of Washington. Though earlier pressure campaigns focused on the Cuban government, and involved demonstrations in front of the Cuban Interests Section (diplomatic mission) in Northwest Washington, Gross’s wife, Judy, has now declared that the Obama administration holds the keys to her husband’s release, and is calling for demonstrations at the White House.

Gross was working for Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland based company that does edgy subcontracting work for U.S. Agency for International Development. His job was to go to Cuba, disguised as a tourist, and provide dissidents with very sophisticated computer and communications equipment that would be able to evade Cuban government surveillance. The government program for which he was working was operating under the aegis of the Helms-Burton Act, whose purpose is clearly and openly to replace the socialist government with one friendly to U.S. corporate interests, and Cuban law and national sovereignty be damned.

So in 2009, Alan Gross was arrested by Cuban authorities who put him on trial. The court gave him a 15-year jail sentence. Responding to this, Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state at the time, claimed that Gross was only trying to help the Jewish community in Cuba to connect to the Internet and thus end their supposed “isolation” from fellow Jews around the world. It is not clear whom Clinton was trying to influence. Certainly it was not the Cuban court, which had Gross dead to rights, nor the Cuban Jewish community, most of whose leaders told the U.S. and international press that they didn’t know Gross, did not feel isolated from Jews in other countries, and had no more difficulty than anyone else in Cuba in going online

Most likely, using the discredited cover story that Gross was helping the oppressed Jews of Cuba had the purpose of creating the impression that the Cuban government is anti-Semitic, a nasty calumny. In fact, for a foreigner from a hostile state to enter any country, including especially the United States under false pretenses and then work with dissidents to undermine that state’s government will everywhere result in arrest and strict punitive sanctions.

At any rate, the Cuban leadership has hinted broadly that they would be amenable to a humanitarian exchange, whereby Gross would be released and allowed to return to his family, while the United States would extend a similar humanitarian reprieve to five Cuban government agents who, arrested in 1998, were serving hard time in U.S. federal prisons for monitoring terrorist inclined right-wing Cuban exile groups in Florida (one of the five, Rene Gonzalez, finished his term and is back in Cuba). Exchanges of arrested agents happen all the time, but the U.S. government kicked against this proposal, claiming, in the words of Hillary Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State, John Kerry, that this would not be possible because the exchange would be asymmetrical. Why?

Because one of the five, Gerardo Hernandez, is serving two life terms for murder, an absurd conviction which would have been thrown out of court anywhere other than Miami with its hysterically anti-Castro press and media (who, by the way, seem to have been subsidized by the U.S. government at the time of the trial).

To the U.S., Gerardo is a murderer because as leader of the group of agents in Miami, he did not warn the Brothers to the Rescue organization that they might be shot down if they continued to violate Cuban airspace while illegally and dangerously buzzing Havana.

The response of the very active movement in solidarity with the Cuban 5 has been to point out that since the Cuban government is willing to talk about the issue and reach an agreement, and the U.S. government is not; it is really the U.S. government that is stopping Gross from regaining his freedom.

To this, the U.S. administration has no answer. Alan Gross’ wife, Judy, is now going to speak at a demonstration on Tuesday, not in front of the Cuban diplomatic mission, but in front of the White House, for as she says, it is now only the U.S. government that can resolve her husband’s dilemma.

Meanwhile, 66 U.S. Senators have signed a letter asking President Obama to do whatever he needs to achieve the freedom of Alan Gross. The implication is that if he negotiated a deal with the Cuban government, they would support it. A smaller group of 14 senators wrote another letter, demanding that Obama refuse to do a humanitarian exchange.

Photo: AP


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.