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USAID’s democracy-building program in Cuba — funded under Congressional legislation that states regime change as the U.S. goal — is seen as a threat by the Cuban regime.
“What we’ve been doing all along is treating Cubans as if their sovereignty doesn’t exist,” said Anya Landau French, director for the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation.
Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the libertarian Lexington Institute, added: “Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of the [USAID] program or one’s opinion of the Cuban government, the fact is the Cuban government sees it as a violation of its sovereignty and I think the only course [of action left] is some kind of negotiation.”
Gross was convicted of “Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State” in March, 2011. Subsequent to his arrest he was subjected to “extensive interrogation, sleep deprivation, and other psychological abuse,” according to the lawsuit.
Gross’s health has been an issue for some time. Since his detention, he has lost more than 100 pounds. Cuban authorities say the mass in Gross’s shoulder is a hematoma and poses no health risk. But a Maryland radiologist hired by Gross’s family, who has seen medical scans, says the mass could be a malignant tumor.
Gross’s family are frustrated that Cuba will not permit further testing of his shoulder. But critics of the campaign say that equating this obstruction to torture may only harden Cuba’s resolve.
“The use of words like ‘torture’ are just inevitably going to force this government to dig in even further,” Sweig said.
Above all, critics question the timing of the ratcheting up of pressure on Cuba. With the election behind him, Obama has more of a free hand than ever before to act on Cuba. They argue that the campaign should be putting more pressure on the U.S. administration to negotiate with Cuba.
As a senator, Obama called for an end to the embargo on Cuba. During his first term in the White House, despite a freeze in relations over the continued detention of Gross, his administration eased restrictions on travel to the island and on the amount of money American citizens could send to Cubans.