One for Five?

John McAuliff

In a meeting with Hispanic journalists on September 12th, President Obama, referring to Bill Richardson’s trip to Cuba, said:

“Anything to get Mr. Gross free we will support”.

Israel has shown the US how to do it.

If it can exchange Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinians, including 315 serving life sentences, why is it so hard for the Obama Administration to release five Cuban intelligence operatives, one imprisoned for life, in return for USAID subcontracted operative Alan Gross?

President Obama can make the first humanitarian gesture by letting Cuban operative Rene Gonzales serve his probation in Cuba, under the supervision of the US Interests Section–if that is required.  President Castro can respond with a humanitarian gesture of giving probation to USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, under the supervision of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

Part of a bilateral negotiated arrangement should be the release of the remaining four imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents.

Cuba can respond in like manner, sending four prisoners to the US.  If there were any still held as prisoners of conscience, they deserve priority.  Otherwise the four can be persons convicted for politically motivated acts of violence, the new cause of the Ladies in White.  It is not too big a stretch as Cuba generally regards all anti-regime actions as being motivated if not funded by the US.

Cardinal Ortega could be asked to serve as the intermediary to assure both sides act in good faith.

Each country regards those imprisoned by the other as heroes and exponents of unimpeachable values.  Similarly each country believes those it holds have been legitimately convicted and sentenced under its laws in the defense of national security and sovereignty.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has provided an example of what it means to be serious rather than rhetorical.

Should Obama be equally courageous, he can expect blatant hypocrisy in response.

Jennifer Rubin blogged in the Washington Post about Israel,

Whatever your cost-benefit analysis of the efficacy of a hugely lopsided prisoner exchange — more than a thousand murderers who prey on women and children for a single boyish, kidnapped soldier — only the hardest of hearts is immune to the emotion evoked by Gilad Shalit’s return and his embrace by his prime minister and family…. But in the end, what mattered most was not the composition of the Hamas list of blood-thirsty killers, but the recognition that a unique country will endure great risks for a single life.

She favorably cited the words of the prominent neo-con Elliot Abrams:

There was indeed an unbreakable obligation to bring Shalit home…. This is the product of the compact between the citizen army and the society: we protect you and you protect us.

Yet only days later, Rubin was fulminating against the appeasement of exchanging Alan Gross for the Cuban Five:

Whether it is Cuba or Iran, the administration reverts to “engagement” mode when its engagement efforts are met with aggression and/or domestic oppression. Try to murder a diplomat on U.S. soil?  We’ll sit down and chat. Grab an American contractor and try him in a kangaroo court?  We’ll trade prisoners and talk about relaxing more sanctions.

Again, she favorably cites Abrams disparaging US willingness to address the reasons for Gross’s imprisonment:

It is especially offensive that we were willing to negotiate over support for democracy in Cuba, for that would mean that the unjust imprisonment of Gross had given the Castro dictatorship a significant victory.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez gave the Cuban spin on the issue in an interview with the New York Times:

“I do not see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of reciprocity”….“I believe that establishing a link between pending bilateral issues to a humanitarian solution in the case of Mr. Gross is a mistake,” he said, later adding, “it is not right to merge this with political issues or add it to the bilateral agenda, which is quite hefty already.”

Alan Gross’s family might take a lesson from the successful campaign to free Gilad Shalit.  As reported by the New York Times Shalit’s family mounted years of protest directed at their own government’s unwillingness to act in a way that could realistically lead to their son’s release, culminating with months of living in a tent near the Prime Minister’s residence.  Gross’s family has followed the opposite strategy, largely aligning itself with the US government’s campaign of pressure on Cuba.

While I  had believed that bilateral issues were the hold up, it seems clear now that the key that unlocks Alan’s cell is President Obama’s action on the case of the Five.  Only Alan’s family and friends can prevail upon the President to use it.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development
The Havana Note
Links and Resources
A new book by Brazilian author Fernando Morais (summarized here:, ) challenges testimony involving the shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that resulted in the Five’s Gerardo Hernandez receiving two life sentences.  Morais convincingly links the witness who testified that the event took place over international rather than Cuban waters to the Cuban American National Foundation.

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