The Castros’ Captive: Why Appeasing Havana Won’t Free Alan Gross 2

By Frank Calzon in Foreign Affairs (magazine)[a CFR publication]

In “Our Man in Havana,” R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana’s Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a “hostage.”

What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross’ imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government’s continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with “the antiquated politics of the Cold War.” He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program “antiquated” when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs’ fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime’s control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.

That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman’s claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “high-level Cuban officials.” Armstrong is quoted as telling the Cubans that the democracy programs were “stupid.” He continued, “We’re cleaning them up. Just give us time, because politically we can’t kill them.” Armstrong then asked, “Will this help you release Alan Gross?” to which he believes the Cubans said yes. This misses the fact that when it comes to Cuba, only two people are empowered to say yes — Raúl and Fidel Castro. And the Castros have a long history of biting any hand of friendship extended to them.

Indeed, even though Congress placed a hold on funding for the democracy program in 2010, Gross was tried and sentenced in March 2011. Washington may have had other reasons to think Cuba would be releasing Gross, but he did not come home with either former President Jimmy Carter nor Richardson, both of whom traveled to Havana.

By now, this story should be all too familiar. As president, Carter attempted reconciliation, establishing the U.S. Special Interests Section in Havana and making efforts at establishing some form of diplomatic relations. Castro’s response was to export thousands of prison inmates and patients from insane asylums to Florida, to send Cuban troops to fight a war in Angola in support of Soviet interests, and to assist anti-American insurgencies in Central America. Later, when U.S. President Bill Clinton again sought to improve relations, Fidel ordered two unarmed, civilian American aircraft shot down over the Straits of Florida in international waters. In response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reduce the animosity between the two countries by easing trade restrictions and lifting limits on remittances, Raúl Castro — who has taken over for Fidel — not only ignored the president’s suggestion that Cuba reduce its taxes on remittances but also jailed Gross.

Gross is not the only person who has been punished for supporting human rights on the island. The regime has detained and expelled many visitors who dared to meet with dissidents. Among them were the current foreign minister of the Czech Republic; a cabinet secretary from Spain; Dutch, German, and European parliament members; journalists; and human rights activists. Gross’ imprisonment — set against the background of the continued repression of Cubans, the harsh punishment meted out to dissidents, and the refusal to allow prison inspections by international organizations — should serve as a wake-up call to those proposing unilateral concessions for the sake of normalization with Havana. Appeasement does not discourage the bad behavior of dictators; it emboldens it.

The time to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba will come only when Havana begins taking steps toward democracy and a free-market economy and reconsiders its alliances with North Korea, Syria, and other U.S. adversaries. Releasing Gross would be one indication that Cuba is ready to change. Obama ought to tell Raúl Castro that the United States holds him personally responsible for Gross’ well-being. Similarly, policy decisions that have increased and allowed remittances and encouraged American tourists to travel to the island can be reversed and revisited. Cuba has always played hardball, and if Castro’s government wants to continue its ways, the United States is not without rackets.

The View From the American Left: “Kerry’s Cuba Sanity” 2

By Arturo Lopez-Levy, January 4, 2013

Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) — A project of the Institute for Policy Studies

One would have to go back to John Quincy Adams, who served in the U.S. diplomatic service from the age of 17, to find a predecessor better pedigreed than John Kerry to lead the U.S. State Department. The son of a diplomat, Kerry is a war veteran, senior senator, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Few experiences have had greater influence on Kerry’s foreign policy views than his decades-long relationship with Vietnam, where Kerry served as a swift boat captain during the Vietnam War.

Kerry’s experience in Vietnam, where visceral ideological attitudes prevailed over rational analysis, prompted the future senator to advocate for a more realistic course for U.S. policy. A decorated veteran, John Kerry became a spokesman for veterans against the war. He learned that to promote U.S. values and interests requires awareness of the relative nature of power and the force of nationalism in the post-colonial world.

Throughout his subsequent political career, Kerry has sought to correct the foreign policy mistakes that led to the fiasco in Indochina, learning to value diplomacy and engagement above force. Together with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), another veteran of the war, Kerry supported President Clinton’s steps to end the U.S. embargo against Vietnam. The result, according to Kerry, has been a “Vietnam that is less isolated, more market oriented, and, yes, freer—though it has miles to go.”

Admittedly, Kerry has not always applied these lessons properly—witness his regrettable support for the Bush administration’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. But elsewhere, as in his efforts to ease the archaic U.S. blockade on Cuba, Kerry continues to promote engagement as the fundamental tool of foreign policy.

In a 2009 Tampa Bay Times op-ed, for example, Kerry relates how the success of the U.S. rapprochement with Vietnam helped shape his advocacy for improved relations with Cuba, which he presented as a defense of U.S. interests and democratic values. “For 47 years,” he wrote, “our embargo in the name of democracy has produced no democracy at all. Too often, our rhetoric and policies have actually furnished the Castro regime with an all-purpose excuse to draw attention away from its many shortcomings.”

This evidence has informed the future secretary of state’s position against the ban on travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens. Based on the experience of tourists from other countries and the return of Cuban-Americans who “have already had a significant impact on increasing the flow of information and hard currency to ordinary Cubans,” Kerry understands that unrestricted U.S. travel to Cuba would be “a catalyst for change.”

The senator also placed a temporary freeze in 2010 on the poorly designed USAID Cuba programs, which have led to the imprisonment of Alan Gross, an agency subcontractor.

Kerry, who has visited Vietnam post-reconciliation, knows that a USAID program there helped to multiply Internet connectivity rates in the country. The USAID program in Vietnam is jointly implemented with the Japanese development agency and with the support of the local government, unlike the Helms-Burton law, which geared USAID programs in Cuba toward regime change and was repudiated in the UN for its unilateralism. The USAID program in Vietnam encourages development, which is what USAID was created for, not efforts to overthrow Hanoi’s government. The premise is that a population more affluent, better educated, and more connected will demand more democratic practices.

According to Kerry, the United States will never stop supporting human rights in Cuba, simply because they are fundamental values of American society. After all, the United States has continued pushing for civil and political liberties in Vietnam since ending its embargo. Washington does so not because it opposes Hanoi’s leaders or to impose a regime change, but as part of a rational strategy of promoting a peaceful evolution to a more open Vietnamese political system. Washington wants stable relationships with the whole Vietnamese nation, not only with the government. Peoples of the world, no matter how suspicious of U.S. motives they may be, appreciate human rights promotion within the framework of international law.

The nomination of John Kerry is also consistent with the political changes that have occurred in the Cuban-American community, expressed by the elevated Cuban diaspora vote for Democrats in the last election. Like Kerry, and as then-Senate candidate Obama stated in 2004, most Cuban-Americans believe that the embargo has failed and that it is time to influence the processes of economic reform and political liberalization that began in Cuba after the retirement of Fidel Castro.

Once public opinion turned against the war in Vietnam, the political leadership in the U.S. found it had no choice but to follow suit. Kerry is better positioned than anyone to be a leader and see that point of departure when it comes to U.S. policy and Cuba.