Harder Line on Cuba in Alan Gross Push

After Election, Is Havana Confrontation Best Policy?

Havana Headache: President Obama’s reelection could open the way to talks to free Alan Gross. Are his supporters missing the boat by painting Cuba into a corner, instead of pinning hopes on better U.S. ties with the island nation.
courtesy of gross family
Havana Headache: President Obama’s reelection could open the way to talks to free Alan Gross. Are his supporters missing the boat by painting Cuba into a corner, instead of pinning hopes on better U.S. ties with the island nation.

By Paul Berger

Published November 19, 2012, issue of November 23, 2012.
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He took on Gross’s case through Perseus Strategies, a for-profit company he launched last year that specializes in legal and public relations services for humanitarian campaigns.

Genser’s public campaign has been almost totally focused on pressuring Cuba. His report to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, claims that the continuing Cuban denial of adequate medical care to Gross, who recently developed a mass on his shoulder that Gross’s family say may be cancerous, could “constitute torture.”

In the weeks to come, Genser promises that further public and political pressure will be brought to bear on Cuba. He said his aim is twofold: to send a message to Cuba that the continued detention of Gross will damage Cuba’s reputation and to emphasize that the best way for Cuba to improve relations with the U.S. is to release Gross. But Armstrong, a former senior staff member to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, says such tactics are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.

Rather than insisting that Gross was wrongly imprisoned, experts say Gross’s backers would do better to take a less confrontational approach towards Cuba and push the White House harder to negotiate his release.

Cuba has hinted that it would be willing to negotiate Gross’s release in return for the freedom of a handful of Cuban agents known as the Cuban Five who were arrested in the U.S. almost 15 years ago. But the State Department has insisted that Gross was doing nothing wrong in Cuba and that the freedom of the Five is not negotiable.

Gross traveled to Cuba five times before he was arrested on December 3, 2009, while working there secretly as a subcontractor for USAID. Gross claimed to have been working on a project to improve Internet access for the island’s tiny Jewish community. However, along with the cell phones and other computer equipment Gross brought into the country were sophisticated, high-tech computer equipment more commonly used by the Defense Department.

In his reports to DAI and USAID after each trip, Gross warned of the dangers of detection. Following his fourth trip to the island, according to the lawsuit, he warned that Cuban customs officials “attempted to seize some of his team’s equipment when they arrived at the airport in Havana.” His fifth trip, the lawsuit said, came after DAI and USAID agreed to extend the term and expand the scope of their project in Cuba.

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