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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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The US government has so far dodged any discussion of how its own policies designed to knowingly violate Cuba’s sovereignty actually put its civilian implementers, like Gross, at risk. If, in suing the US government and its grantee, DAI, the Gross family can prove – or threaten to prove in embarrassing detail – negligence that helped land Gross in jail, it might motivate the US to quietly settle the suit and redouble its efforts ahead of an embarrassing trial. But as one former Senate investigator notes, in making this public case that the US government ill-prepared Gross for a seemingly covert mission, the Gross family is actually reinforcing the Cubans' case against him.

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While no one knows for sure what Cuba wants in exchange for Gross's release (particularly if the US won't budge on the five), now is the time to go back to the negotiating table and find out, and consider options from there. Some insist the US must not negotiate with Cuba to secure Gross's release. But we should remember that Mr. Gross did in fact violate Cuban law, US laws and ethics have no authority in Cuba, and Gross himself is now asking the US government to negotiate for his release. Gross must eventually accept some responsibility for the choices he made, but at the same time, the US government had (or should have had) a far deeper understanding of the potential risks it would pay Gross to take on his trips, and should have at least prepared him for them.

Three years in, the Gross family has chosen a new strategy, by turning up the heat on the Cuban and the US governments. Time will tell whether this new strategy will pay off.  With the election behind it, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her way out, might it be time for the Obama administration to change its strategy as well? If the US finally gets serious about making a deal with Cuba, such a deal could and ought to include the very program for which Gross was working. USAID’s work in Cuba, carried out in near total secrecy and without cooperation from the host country government, thus risking the safety of grantees and their contacts on the island, is also undermining the broader mission of the USAID organization, which is development, not diplomacy or intelligence. The USAID program in Cuba could be ended or cut back, given the reality that it is tainted by the regime change statute that authorized its existence. The administration can easily find other revenue streams (not linked to specific regime change laws or policies) through which to maintain humanitarian aid to political prisoners’ families, to champion human rights on the island, and to make a more constructive contribution to economic reform and prosperity on the island.

– Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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