U.S. Must Raise Stakes to Get Hostage Alan Gross Returned by Cuba 1

Frank Calzon

Frank Calzon

By Frank Calzon, frank.calzon@cubacenter.org, Miami Herald OP/ED

Confronted with the barbaric beheadings of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the terrorists of the Islamic State, President Obama has rightly changed course and announced a new strategy.

After six lackluster and bewildering years, the president would do well to reappraise his strategy for dealing with Cuba and North Korea, as well. Cuba is still holding hostage a USAID contractor. Alan Gross is ill and has lost 100 pounds in harsh Cuban prisons.

Havana wants “to exchange” Gross for release of Cuban spies in U.S. prisons who have been convicted of “conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, destruction of aircraft, and murder.” They not only infiltrated Florida military bases, but also set up the killing of four Miami men, members of Brothers to the Rescue, who were flying unarmed civilian aircraft over the Florida Straits to spot fleeing Cubans aboard rafts in need of help.

Raúl Castro, now president of Cuba but then head of its military forces, personally gave the order to the pilots of the Cuban MiG aircraft that shot down the small planes. Today, Castro’s proposed deal to swap “prisoners” pits the desire of Gross’ loved ones to see him free and home against Cuban-American families in Miami who sought and got justice for their loved ones murdered in the Florida Straits.

Since his election President Obama has pursued a policy of extending a “hand of friendship” to Cuba and to North Korea, an equally brutal communist regime. Nothing’s changed for the better in Cuba or North Korea.

As Bloomberg News reported a year ago, North Korea even announced its military has been given “final authorization to attack the United States, possibly with nuclear weapons.” With U.S. troops still stationed on the border between North and South Korea that’s no idle threat.

Alan Gross committed no crime. He gave a laptop computer and satellite telephone to a group of Cuban Jews wanting to connect to the Internet and had boarded a plane to head home when he was taken hostage. For weeks after he was “arrested,” no charges were presented. Then a kangaroo court imposed a 15-year prison sentence, of which he’s served four years.

The draconian sentence can be explained only as another Cuban attempt to force U.S. leaders to comply. The Obama administration has bent over backward pleading for Gross’ release, to no avail.

In the past, Havana extorted ransom from the United States to free Cubans captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion; our government had trained and equipped the men. Havana subsequently engineered a series of refugee crises.

Feature continues here: Alan Gross   

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Cat-And-Mouse Secrecy Game Plays Out Daily in Cuba 5

FILE--Frank Calzon, a Cuban-American who smuggles items like bibles and televisions into Cuba, displays merchandise in his Washington Freedom House office in this June 12, 1996 file photo.  CHUCK KENNEDY / KRT

FILE–Frank Calzon, a Cuban-American who smuggles items like bibles and televisions into Cuba, displays merchandise in his Washington Freedom House office in this June 12, 1996 file photo. CHUCK KENNEDY / KRT

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

Cuban dissident Berta Soler says she and other members of the Ladies in White were handing out toys to children at Trillo Park in Havana when a State Security officer detained them and seized the 60 to 70 toys.

Soler said she protested that the women bought the toys legally in Havana with money received legally from supporters abroad. But the agent told her, “Berta, don’t play the fool, because you know those toys come from Miami, the terrorists.”

The March 15 incident reflected the cat-and-mouse game played almost daily by dissidents, supporters abroad who send them assistance and the security agents of a communist government that views most such aid — even toys — as “subversive.”

That’s why, several of the foreign supporters argue, they must use a measure of discretion when sending aid to democracy, human rights or Internet freedom activists in Cuba — enough to ensure it reaches the right people on the island but not so much that it raises suspicions of major illegalities.

“When State Security seizes laptops or even copies of the [U.N.’s] International Declaration of Human Rights, you have to use some discretion,” said Frank Calzon, head of the Center for Cuban Democracy in Washington.

The issue of secrecy in efforts to help Cuba’s civil society hit front pages last week when The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development had created a “covert” Twitter-like platform for Cubans. USAID said the program was not covert, only “discreet” because of the “nonpermissive environment” on the island.

Calzon said he did not mind talking about the precautions he takes in helping Cubans because his center no longer receives U.S. government grants for Cuba programs, and suspects that Havana knows them anyhow.

He stopped keeping important documents in his office after three break-ins in which thieves rifled through files but took no valuables, Calzon said. He keeps four shredders in his office and has it swept occasionally for eavesdropping devices.

Over the years he used foreigners visiting Cuba and other ways to deliver tens of thousands of shortwave radios, books and human rights declarations, Calzon said, “all things that would not be a problem in any normal society.”

But he never revealed the names of the travelers to USAID before they had left the island, Calzon added. And if he sent cash, he would ask one activist to distribute the money to others in need, but he never provided a full list of recipients.

Read more here: Cat-And-Mouse Secrecy Game Plays Out Daily in Cuba