By Chris Simmons
For some time, the Castro regime has offered to exchange imprisoned American Alan Gross for a group of its spies known as the “Cuban Five.” At least one official, retired Colonel Néstor García Iturbe, the former head of Cuba’s intelligence school, is urging Havana to hold out for the Cuban Five and Ana Montes – the highest-ranking Cuban agent ever imprisoned by the United States.
Cuba’s call for an exchange has received a warm welcome from Gross’ Jewish family, the Jewish community and other well-intentioned but misguided supporters. No trade should ever be considered. The Cuban Five, as well as Ana Montes, are directly or indirectly responsible for the premeditated murders of several Americans. In contrast, Alan Gross – who isn’t even a spy – has hurt no one.
The Castro regime has long viewed America as an impatient and hapless giant. As such, it arrested Gross to use as leverage against the United States. In its mind, the idea that the US would exchange the Cuban Five for an imprisoned American was a forgone conclusion. The only questions in the minds of Havana’s despots are “how long will it take?” and “will we get all five/six?”
The Castro brothers and their aging cabal of leaders understand and respect only two things – power and the willingness to use it. Negotiating with them is a fool’s errand. However, the surgical application of force against one of Havana’s critical weaknesses would quickly lead to Alan Gross’s unconditional release.
The proposed “power play” is brilliant in its simplicity. Currently, officials assigned to the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN) are allowed to travel freely only within a 25-mile radius from the center of New York City. Similarly, Cuban officials in Washington DC are allowed to travel at will within a 25-mile radius of the White House. Travel outside this zone requires advance approval from the State Department. US officials in Havana face a similar 25-mile restriction.
The US should tell Havana to release Alan Gross within 48 hours or it will shrink the 25-mile radius by one mile every day until he is freed. If Gross isn’t free within 25 days, Havana’s diplomats would be confined to the CMUN and their Interests Section. While this may seem little more than an inconvenience to Cuba’s officials, in reality, it would bring the regime to its knees.
The safety and security of the Cuban Interests Section and the CMUN are central to Havana’s ability to commit espionage in the United States. More importantly, it requires an uninterrupted US presence to maintain its role as “intelligence trafficker to the world.” Over the years, the selling of US secrets has become a major revenue stream in sustaining the regime. According to defectors and émigrés, Havana’s trafficking generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually. While Cuba would still be able to sell the information it intercepts from the airwaves, the loss of the secrets stolen by its US-based spy networks would have an immediate and significant impact. The value of its intelligence “commodity” would plummet. Additionally, its intelligence services, part of whose budgets are based on the sale of its US secrets, would be further crippled by this economic downturn.
In contrast, the risk to the US for undertaking this “power play” is largely irrelevant. Cuba would, no doubt, restrict US diplomats to our Interests Section in Havana. But who cares? The US doesn’t earn hundreds of millions of dollars by selling Cuban secrets to its allies. The US economy is not based on intelligence trafficking, as is Havana’s. If the US is serious about wanting Alan Gross returned, it’s time for a “squeeze play.” The smart money is betting that Havana blinks first.