Would the US free the 'Cuban Five' in exchange for Alan Gross?
Three years ago, Alan Gross was arrested and found guilty of crimes against the 'sovereignty and territorial integrity' of Cuba. Now, he wants the US and Cuba to sit down together and negotiate his release.
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Of Mr. Gross’s activities, State officials have said little other than to claim that he was merely trying to connect the Jewish community across Cuba with better access to each other and to the world, and to insist on his immediate, unconditional release. The US government has sought to paint Gross as nothing more than a humanitarian aid worker who broke no Cuban laws. It’s hardly an invitation to a serious discussion with Cuban authorities holding Mr. Gross when it is clear that Gross did break Cuban laws (more than one), and that the US. government sent him there specifically to do so.Skip to next paragraph
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For its part, Cuba has not been much more cooperative. While Cuban officials have made very plain their position that Gross – and the US law that authorized his and other USAID activities on the island – violated Cuban sovereignty, they’ve dropped few and often contradictory clues as to whether Mr. Gross could hope for any early release. It could well be because there are dueling opinions in the highest ranks in Havana about whether to make a gesture which could go unanswered, or to extract something from the US for his return.
Several times, Cuban officials have suggested a reciprocal humanitarian gesture could be possible, and recently, there's increasing talk of swapping Gross for five Cuban intelligence agents, [known as "The Cuban Five'"]though the State Department has ruled out this possibility. Cuba says the five were investigating anti-Castro militants in South Florida and that after it invited the FBI to Cuba to review the evidence, the FBI then rounded up the Cuban agents instead of acting against the Cuban exile militants. The five were tried and convicted in Miami and given long prison terms more than a dozen years ago.
The agents admit to being unregistered foreign agents in the US, which usually carries a shorter sentence, but they've denied other charges, including the leader of the group, Gerardo Hernandez, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for what prosecutors argued was his foreknowledge of the Cuban government’s decision to shoot down 2 civilian aircraft. The aircraft belonged to a group called Brothers to the Rescue, which had repeatedly, purposely breached Cuban airspace and overflown the capital.
The Cuban government argues that the five didn’t get a fair trial in Miami but there’s not much the Obama administration can do about the case, other than to pardon some or all of the five, in order to win Alan Gross’s release. And while President Obama won a record share of Cuban American votes in the recent election, either because of or in spite of his less aggressive policy toward Cuba, it’s hard to see the administration going quite that far, particularly at at the beginning of a new term.
Where there’s a political will, there’s usually a way, but from the Gross family’s perspective, the administration just isn’t working to get Gross released. Having waited three years for Washington to out-muscle Havana, or else for Havana to respond to pressures or entreaties, the Gross family is wielding the only leverage it has: the potential to embarrass and implicate others in his incarceration.