Alan Gross and the Cuban Five

The Miami Herald ran a long story by Frances Robles anticipating the one year anniversary of the arrest of Alan Gross.

Two paragraphs caught my attention:

Her husband's detention and the loss of 70 percent of her household income forced the psychotherapist to sell her home of 22 years. She now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., where she spends her evenings writing letters to the likes of Cuban leader Raúl Castro and worrying about her 26-year-old daughter, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer....

"DAI is profoundly disappointed by Alan's continued detention,'' DAI's President and CEO James Boomgard said in a statement. "As the anniversary of his detention approaches, our thoughts are with Alan, his wife Judy, and their two daughters, and our hope is that this loving husband and father may be swiftly reunited with his family.''

It is unconscionable that Development Alternatives Incorporated [DAI] sent Alan Gross to Cuba as a subcontractor apparently without warning of the potential illegality and risk of his actions and then does not provide support for his wife while he is held for doing its bidding, forcing her to sell their home. It may be that James Boomgard's "thoughts are with Alan, his wife Judy, and their two daughters" but apparently not his profits. DAI gives new meaning to the term beltway bandits.

While Cuba had legal grounds for his arrest, its continued silence about actual charges is politically damaging to its larger interests and may have contributed to the failure of the travel bill in Congress.

This portion of the Miami Herald story does not help

Some have suggested that the Cuban government is holding out to pressure the United States to release five intelligence agents jailed in federal prison, a swap Judy Gross considers "apples and oranges.''

"They were arrested and convicted for spying,'' she said. "Alan is a hostage.''

If the possibility of a prisoner exchange in fact motivates Cuba more than preventing future civil society interference (as I posted earlier), the logical conclusion is that Alan be tried and then the two situations will be more similar.

The substance of what the Cuban Five did in spying on anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami is not much more serious than what Alan did. Certainly both sending countries feel their agents were morally justified in their illicit acts of infiltration and dispute the legitimacy of the other side's action. There is a difference between being a short term contractual amateur and a full time disciplined agent of a hostile foreign power, although in part that reflects the privatized vs. state orientation of the two countries. In reality paid covert action and professional espionage are two sides of the same coin of what nations in conflict do to one another.


Two years ago I argued that Cuba's prisoners arrested in the "Black Spring" of 2003 be exchanged for the Five. Cuba quietly proposed just such an arrangement of mutual gestures through European diplomats and the Vatican and last year in public remarks by President Raul Castro. The US officially rejected the idea. Now that the last of the Cuban prisoners are being released, is it too much to expect Washington to respond comparably by freeing the Five? If that happened, is releasing Alan Gross a logical progression by Havana?

Such implicit reciprocity seems unlikely from a US Administration which so far is not even able to announce its own regulatory reform of non-tourist people to people travel and humanitarian assistance.

Maybe for Christmas.