By Arturo López-Levy
Originally published in The Havana Note
Mauricio Claver-Carone hosts a satellite radio program by the name “From Washington al Mundo” covering international affairs. But don’t expect any diplomacy there. The program is merely his platform from which to insult the American foreign policy establishment. For example, in his August 6 show, Claver targeted Vali Nasr, the Dean of the School of Advanced Studies of Johns Hopkins University and a leading expert on the Middle East, calling him “a useful idiot” or an agent of Teheran for not advocating a regime change policy and promoting negotiations with Iran. Mr. Claver and his guest Shahriar Etminani agreed that the nuclear issue is mere “noise”.
In another episode, Claver denounced Washington’s engagement with Beijing. On April 17, Claver hosted Thadeus McCotter or “the smartest member of Congress” by Claver’s reckoning. The host and the guest shared their belief that as long as the Communist Party is in power, China remains the same. The United States should apply a Cold War policy to China because the war has never ended. According to Claver’s logic, the 40- year Nixon-Kissinger model of “unconditional” and “nonchalant” engagement with China is a case of “myopia”. It should be replaced by a “confrontational” approach. After Tiananmen Square, the United States should have applied to China a policy similar to our fifty year failure against Cuba: the embargo.
But on his September 13 show, Claver really outdid himself. Claver, who is also the main pro-Cuba embargo lobbyist in Washington, had prepared himself for a coronation but ended up a jester. His special guest was Judy Gross, the wife of the USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross who is imprisoned in Cuba. Mrs. Gross basically rebuked one by one all of the mantras of the pro-embargo lobby about a potential solution to her husband’s predicament. In a call to the State Department, she advocated for the immediate beginning of negotiations between the Cuban and the US governments to address Alan Gross’ imprisonment. She argued persuasively in favor of the US government taking its “moral responsibility” for sending her husband to Cuba. Mrs. Gross traversed Claver’s minefield of manipulation by refusing to join him in his statements against the Obama Administration’s steps toward engagement such as allowing people to people travel to Cuba since January 2011.
Mrs. Gross’ message in “From Washington al mundo” should be the compass of a national and world advocacy campaign for her husband’s release. Alan Gross is an American Jew. Americans and Jews all over the world have the commitment to care for a brother in faith and fellow citizen. Everything should be done, particularly a responsible negotiation with Havana, for Alan Gross’ release. At the same time, the campaign should take public distance from the US embargo or the USAID program under the Helms-Burton law. As Jews and Americans, we don’t have any committment whatsoever to the agenda of property claims and political revenge of the Cuban pro-embargo groups. There should be negotiations regarding Gross between Cuba and the United States, therefore we need to put pressure on Havana and Washington. Mr. Claver and those who share his “confrontational approach” to Iran, China, or Cuba should sail on their own.
The US government is responsible for the USAID programs, which have severe design problems, including the lack of a request for the informed consent of the Cuban Jewish Community for Gross’ actions. Gross was not a spy, but he was working in a secret program under section 109 of the Helms-Burton law to circumvent Cuban state monitoring of internet access in the island. Those in the State Department and USAID who sent Gross to Cuba knew that the American law he was working under is considered a violation of Cuban sovereignty not only by the Cuban government but also by the overwhelming majority of the United Nations and most of Cuban civil society, including all the main religious communities.
No matter how much we despise the communist censorship of internet, according to international law, the protection of the Cuban cyberspace is the responsibility of the Cuban State. Given the history of terrorist attacks by Cuban exiles against the island, sometimes with the tolerance of the US government, at best, and its complicity at worst, it is logical that the Cuban authorities would consider any attempt to undermine its control over its cyberspace as a serious threat to its sovereignty and national integrity.
Nothing between Cuba and the United States escapes the context of a fifty years old embargo. This policy was described by Pope John Paul II, as “illegal, immoral and counterproductive”. For decades, Cuban technological development has been forestalled by restrictions on trade with the largest market in the world, just ninety miles from its shores. Different from the USAID programs in other countries, including communist Vietnam, where the agency is cooperating with the government to create nonpartisan access throughout libraries, in Cuba there is a U.S. sponsored attempt to guarantee selective access to opponents and independent civil society actors while denying the sale of technology and access to the government and those who support it.
Gross’ predicament is aggravated by the powerful interests on both sides of the Florida Straits that favor the confrontational status quo between Cuba and the United States. Before the November elections, there is little incentive to negotiate some settlement of Alan Gross’ situation, which is implicitly connected- in the minds of Cuban officials- with the “Cuban Five,” a group of agents condemned in Miami under charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. Havana realizes that Gross’ imprisonment is drawing a lot of new attention to the cause of the Five and the many irregularities and deviations of American justice standards of their Miami trial.
In South Florida, pro-embargo hardliners have largely profited from the arrest of the Five and Gross. Although the five agents mainly infiltrated violent anti-Castro groups and did not cause any damage to US national security, the reiteration of news about the five Cuban “spies” has provided ammunition for those interested in denouncing Cuba’s alleged offensive designs against the United States. For the hard line exiles, Alan Gross’ incarceration has been a major asset in their campaign against Obama’s minimal engagement. That is why Claver and the Cuban American Representatives and Senators have argued vigorously against any negotiation. Curiously, Radio Marti, a radio station paid by the U.S. government but controlled by the Cuban American radical exiles reported Mrs. Gross’ interview with Claver but deliberately ommitted her petition to the United States government to answer positively to Havana’s negotiation offer. Such manipulation of Mrs. Gross’ opinions is cruel and shameful. The pro-embargo forces should take responsibility for Mr. Gross’ ordeal, which was partially caused by their policies of regime change.
Simultaneously, those in Havana who despise a rapprochement with the United States, wanting to delay the unavoidable economic reform, use the Five as a rallying flag to stimulate popular support, gaining time for elite accommodation without an immediate political opening. Likewise, the release of the Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada by a Texas immigration judge contrasts with the severely bias trial endured by the Five in Miami and feeds perfectly into Cuba’s nationalist narrative of defiance and resistance against foreign imposition and US double standards in the human rights discourse.
Therefore, a solution of the Gross case should be part of a general improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States. If Obama wins a second term, he will have the flexibility he now lacks. He should rapidly negotiate the release of Gross and enter into history as the president, who promoted a rational redesign of a five-decade-old mistaken policy of isolation against Cuba. Secretary Clinton should not leave Foggy Bottom without flying the extra ninety miles to bring Gross back home. That would be the best response to Judy Gross’ wise and moving message “From Washington al mundo”.
Dawn Gable contributted to this article.