Le Monde Diplomatique (April 2011)
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Since December 3, 2009, the case of Alan Gross has been fueling tensions between Washington and Havana. Cuba-US relations have been in conflict for more than half a century and reached a high tension peak under the administration of George W. Bush. The arrival of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2009 brought a mild flexibility to the restrictions formerly imposed by the Republican administration, but still did not reach the level achieved under William Clinton between 1996 and 2000. Now, Cuban-Americans can travel to their country of origin without limitations; instead of for the 14 days every three years imposed by Bush between 2004 and 2009. Similarly, the White House has been more tolerant regarding bilateral and religious academic exchanges. But the case of Gross, which clearly reflects an aspect of the US foreign policy towards Cuba – which consists of openly financing internal opposition – hinders feeble attempts of approach between the two capitals. As the US State Department has recalled, "the detention of Alan Gross represents a main obstacle for the dialogue between our two countries." 1
Who is Alan Gross?
Alan Gross is a 61 year-old Jewish US citizen from Potomac, Maryland who works for the US Government. He is an employee of Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), a subcontractor of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which itself is a dependency of the State Department. In December 2009, when Gross was about to leave Cuba with a simple tourist visa –after his fifth visit that year – Cuban state security authorities detained him at the International Airport in Havana. An investigation discovered close links between him and the internal opposition to the Cuban government. Gross had been distributing among the opposition portable computers and satellite telephones as part of a State Department program for "promoting democracy in Cuba".2
A long-distance communications technology expert, Gross has great experience in the field. He has worked in more than 50 nations and set up satellite communications systems during the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan to circumvent channels controlled by the local authorities. 3
Possession of a satellite phone is strictly forbidden in Cuba for national security reasons. In fact, apart from avoiding all control by local authorities, such devices, with a price between 1,500 € and 5,000 € per unit, permits the transmission of data to coordinate an air strike to a country that has been the victim of many terrorist attacks – close to a total of 6000, the most recent in 1997 – and air bombings since 1959. On the other hand, telecommunications in Cuba are a state monopoly and competition is forbidden. 4
Aid for the Cuban Jewish Community?
The State Department, demanding the release of the detainee declared, "Gross works for international development and travelled to Cuba to assist the members of the Jewish community in Havana to connect with other Jewish communities in the world." According to Washington, Gross' activities were legitimate and did not violate Cuban legislation. 5
In October 2010, during the annual session of the UN General Assembly, Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant State Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, met with Bruno Rodríguez, Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, to discuss Gross. This was the most important diplomatic meeting between representatives from both nations since the beginning of Obama's era. 6
Alan Gross' family also assured that his frequent trips to the island were to allow the Jewish community in Havana to gain access to the Internet and to communicate with Jews all over the world. 7
His lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, endorsed their words, "His work in Cuba had nothing to do with politics; it was simply aimed at helping the small, peaceful, non-dissident Jewish community in the country." 8
However, the Jewish community in Havana contradicts the official version of the US and the Gross family. In fact, the community affirms they don't know Alan Gross, and they had never met with him despite his five visits to Cuba in 2009. Adela Dworin, President of the Beth Shalom Temple, rejected Washington's statements, "It's lamentable […]. The saddest part is that they tried to involve the Jewish community in Cuba which has nothing to do with this." For its part, Mayra Levy, Speaker of the Sephardic Hebraic Center, declared she didn't know who Gross was and added he had never been to her institution. The US agency Associated Press said "the leaders of the Jewish community in Cuba denied the American contractor Alan Gross […] had collaborated with them. In like manner, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that "the main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied having any contacts with Alan Gross or any knowledge of his project." 10
Reverend Oden Marichal, Secretary of the Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba (CIC) [Cuban Council of Churches] which groups the [non-Catholic] Christian religious institutions and the Jewish community in Cuba, confirmed this position at a meeting with Peter Brennan, State Department Coordinator for Cuban Affairs. On the occasion of the General Assembly of Churches of Christ in the US, held in Washington in 2010, the religious leader rejected Gross' allegations. "What we made clear is what the Cuban Jewish Community, a member of the Cuban Council of Churches, told us, `We never had a relationship with that gentleman; he never brought us any equipment'. They denied any kind of relationship with Alan Gross." 11
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to mobilize the US Jewish community to support Gross, "I call upon the active Jewish community in our country to join this cause." But the initiatives of the Secretary of State have found little echo among Jewish leaders in the United States. A year after his arrest, no US religious Jewish organization has become involved in this case. 12
In fact, the small Cuban Jewish community, far from isolated, is perfectly integrated in society and has the best relations with the political authorities in the Island. Fidel Castro, although very critical of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, declared to American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that in history "no one has been as slandered as the Jews. They were exiled from their land, persecuted and mistreated everywhere in the world. The Jews had a more difficult existence than ours. Nothing can compare to the Holocaust," he said. 13
Cuban President Raúl Castro attended the religious ceremony for Hanukkah –the Festival of Lights – at the Shalom Synagogue in Havana, in December 2010. The visit was broadcast live on Cuban TV and published in the front page of newspaper Granma. He took the opportunity to greet "the Cuban Jewish community and the fabulous history of the Hebrew people." 14
Moreover, the Cuban Jewish community has all the technological facilities needed to communicate with the rest of the world, thanks to the assistance of other international Jewish entities such as the B'nai Brith and the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the World ORT, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) or the United Jewish Committee (UJC); all of it endorsed by the Cuban authorities. 15
Arturo López-Levy, B'nai Brith Secretary for the Cuban Jewish Community between 1999 and 2001, and today a professor at Denver University, is also skeptical about the US version of the Gross case. On the subject he stated, "Gross was not arrested for being Jewish or for his alleged activities of technological aid to the Cuban Jewish community which already had an informatics lab, electronic mail and Internet access before he got to Havana. [The Jews in Cuba] do not gather at a synagogue to conspire with the political opposition because this would jeopardize their cooperation with the government which is needed for their activities: the emigration to Israel program, the Right by Birth project --through which young Cuban Jews travel to Israel every year—or to deal with humanitarian aid. To protect the most important they detach themselves as much as possible from the US programs of political interference on Cuban internal affairs. Gross travelled to Cuba not to work with any Jewish organization but for USAID." 16
Wayne S. Smith, Chief of the US Interests Section in Cuba from 1979 to 1982 and Director of Cuba Program of the Center for International Policy in Washington, said that "in other words, Gross was involved in a program whose intentions were clearly hostile to Cuba, because its objective is nothing else than regime change." 17
The clandestine nature of Gross' activities also intrigued the Cuban authorities which inferred that the employee had received assistance to introduce satellite materials. In fact, every piece of luggage goes through the X-rays of Cuban customs and such merchandise would have been detected and confiscated immediately. This allows the suspicion that Gross had the assistance of the US Interests Section in Havana, the American diplomatic representation in Cuba, which probably introduced the different equipment in their diplomatic bags.
Illegal Activities According to Cuban Authorities
The official US version has not convinced the Cuban authorities and Gross is suspected of espionage and internal subversion activities. 18
Ricardo Alarcon, President of the Cuban Parliament, declared that the American citizen had violated the country's legislation. "He violated Cuban laws, national sovereignty, and committed crimes that in the US are most severely punished." 19
Truly, the USAID employee was providing highly sophisticated technological equipment. The distribution and use of satellite phones is regulated in Cuba and it is forbidden to import them without authorization. On the other hand, Article 11 of Cuban Law 88 reads that, "He who, in order to perform the acts described in this Law, directly or through a third party, receives, distributes or takes part in the distribution of financial means, material or of other kind, from the Government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials, or from private entities is liable to prison terms from 3 to 8 years." 20
This severity is not unique to Cuban legislation. US law prescribes similar penalties for this type of crime. The Foreign Agents Registration Act prescribes that any un-registered agent "who requests, collects, supplies or spends contributions, loans, money or any valuable object in his own interest" may be liable to a sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 dollars. 21
French legislation also punishes this type of action. According to Article 411-8 of the Penal Code, "the act of exercising on behalf of a foreign power, a foreign company or organization or a company or organization under the control of a foreign agent, any act aimed at supplying devices, information, procedures, objects, documents, informatics data or files whose exploitation, spreading, or gathering can by nature attempt against the fundamental interests of the nation is punishable with ten years of imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 Euros." 22
On February 4, 2011, the Prosecutor of the Republic of Cuba formally accused Alan Gross of "acts against the integrity and independence of the nation," and demanded a jail sentence of 20 years. On March 12, 2011 Gross was finally sentenced to 15 years imprisonment after his trial. 23.
The lawyer for the defense, Peter J. Kahn, expressed his regret that his client was "caught in the middle of a long political dispute between Cuba and the United States." 24
The New York Times remembers that Gross "was arrested last December during a trip to Cuba as part of a semi-clandestine USAID program, a service of foreign aid of the State Department destined to undermine the Cuban Government." The New York paper also indicated that "US authorities have admitted that Mr. Gross entered Cuba without the appropriate visa and have said he distributed satellite telephones to religious groups." 25
Since 1992 and the adoption of the Torricelli Act, the US openly admits its objective towards Cuba is a "regime change" and one of the pillars of this policy is to organize, finance and equip an internal opposition. 26.
USAID, which is in charge of the implementation of the plan, admits that, as part of this program, it finances the Cuban opposition. According to the Agency for the 2009 fiscal year the amount destined for aid to Cuban dissidents was of 15.62 million dollars. Since 1996 a total of 140 million dollars have been dedicated to the program aimed at overthrowing the Cuban government. "The largest part of this figure is for individuals inside Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of the support that benefits the Cubans in the Island." 27
The government agency also stresses the following, "We have trained hundreds of journalists in a ten year period and their work is seen in mainstream international media." Formed and paid by the US, they represent, above all, the interests of Washington whose objective is a "regime change" on the island. 28
From a juridical point of view, this reality in fact places the dissidents who accept the emoluments offered by USAID in the position of being agents at the service of a foreign power, which constitutes a serious violation of the Cuban Penal Code. The agency is aware of this reality and simply reminds all that "nobody is obliged to accept or be part of the programs of the government of the United States." 29
Judy Gross, the wife of Alan Gross, was authorized to visit him in prison for the first time in July 2010. 30. She took the occasion to send a letter to Cuban President Raúl Castro. She expressed her repentance and apologized for the acts of her husband. "I understand today that the Cuban Government does not appreciate the type of work Alan was doing in Cuba. His intention never was to hurt your government." 31.
Judy Gross also expressed her bitterness against President Obama who has not made a statement on the subject. Her husband, a militant Democrat "had campaigned five weeks for Obama's election." The President did not respond either to a letter from Evelyn Gross, mother of the detainee. Judy Gross accuses the State Department of not having explained to her husband that his activities were illegal in Cuba. "If Alan had known that something would happen to him in Cuba, he would not have done that. I think he was not clearly informed about the risks." 32
A Way Out of the Crisis?
The Gross case bears no good news for the improvement of the relations between the two nations. On the part of Washington, as the authorities have stated through Arturo Valenzuela, there will be no substantial change until a solution is found to this issue. It poses an important obstacle to any hint of approach between Havana and Washington. 33
The Gross-USAID issue seems linked to the future of the five Cuban agents sentenced to severe jail sentences in the US and incarcerated since 1998. They were accused of conspiracy to commit acts of espionage for infiltrating small violent groups of anti-Castro exiles in Florida. Associated Press remembers that "their mission was to gather information about the violent anti-Castro groups in Florida after a sequence of bomb attacks against tourist centers in Havana a year before." 34.
The Atlanta Court of Appeals admitted this was not a case of espionage or an attempt against US national security. The case has been condemned by most of the organizations of lawyers and jurists in the United States, the United Nations, Amnesty International and at least ten Nobel Prize Winners. On the part of Havana, the position is also very clear: there can be no approach to Washington while this five people are in prison. 35
The most viable solution would be an exchange of prisoners. At present, under the pressure of Congresspersons of Cuban origin such as Senator Robert Menéndez, and House Members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Díaz-Balart and Albio Sires, the State Department rejects this possibility which could be acceptable to the Cuban authorities. But the American position could evolve after the severe sentence given to Alan Gross. 36
The exchange of prisoners promoted by former New Mexico State Governor Bill Richardson, who stands for an approach for which "each side has to take steps", would allow to mitigate in part the rancor of the past, attenuate the Cold War mentality prevailing in the bilateral affairs and open the path to a true reestablishment of relations between both nations. 37
Addendum - November 2011
Alan Gross himself made an such an appeal when he asked that the administration of Barack Obama undertake negotiations with the Cuban authorities in order that he might be exchanged for the five Cuban prisoners in the U.S. "Following the recent exchange of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, Gross was clear that he wants the United States and Cuba to make a similar gesture for him and for the Cuban Five", explained Rabbi David Shneyer, who had visited him in Havana.(1) Such a negotiation has also been suggested by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who supports a rapprochement, according to which "each party would take a step toward meeting the other," thereby dampening the rancor of the past, attenuating the Cold War mentality that still reigns over bilateral relations, and opening a door that could lead to the reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Revised by Caty. R.
1 Phillip J. Crowley, «Statement on Anniversary of Alan Gross' Incarceration in Cuba», U.S. Department of State, December 3, 2010.
2 Jeff Franks, «Scenarios – U.S. Contractor Jailed in Cuba Still in Limbo», Reuters, October 24, 2010.
3 Phillip J. Crowley, «Statement on Anniversary of Alan Gross' Incarceration in Cuba», op. cit.; Saul Landau, «The Alan Gross Case», Counterpunch, July 30, 2010. http://www.counterpunch.org/landau07302010.html (site consulted on February 18, 2011).
5 Phillip J. Crowley, «Statement on Anniversary of Alan Gross' Incarceration in Cuba», op. cit.
6 Paul Haven, «US, Cuban Diplos Met About Jailed US Man», The Associated Press, October 18, 2010.
7 Anthony Boadle, «Exclusive: American Held in Cuba Expresses Regret to Raul Castro», Reuters, October 24, 2010.
8 Juan O. Tamayo, «Pedirán 20 años de cárcel para Gross», El Nuevo Herald, February 5, 2011.
9 Andrea Rodríguez, «Judíos niegan haber colaborado con Alan Gross», The Associated Press, December 2, 2010.
10 Jewish Telegraphic Agency, «Cuba to Seek 20-Year Prison Term for Alan Gross», February 6, 2011.
11 Andrea Rodriguez, «EEUU pide iglesias de Cuba interesarse por contratista preso», The Associated Press, December 2, 2010.
12 Jewish Telegraphic Agency, «Clinton Makes Plea for Cuban Detainee Alan Gross», July 14, 2010.
13 Jeffrey Goldberg, «Castro: `No One Has Been Slandered More Than the Jews'», The Atlantic, December 7, 2010. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/castro-no-one-has-been-slandered-more-than-the-jews/62566/ (site consulted on February 18, 2011).
14 The Associated Press, «Raul Castro Celebrates Hanukkah With Cuban Jews»; Juan O. Tamayo, «Raúl Castro asiste a fiesta de Janucá en sinagoga de La Habana», El Nuevo Herald, December 6, 2010.
15 Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba, «Quienes ayudan». http://www.chcuba.org/espanol/ayuda/quienes.htm (site consulted on February 18, 2011).
16 Arturo López-Levy, «Freeing Alan Gross: First Do No Harm», August 2010. http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2010/08/freeing_alan_gr/ (site consulted on February 18, 2011).
17 Wayne S. Smith, « The Gross Case and the Inanity of U.S. Policy », Center for International Policy, March 2011. http://ciponline.org/pressroom/articles/030411_Smith_Intelligence_Brief_Gross.htm (site consulted on March 13, 2011).
18 Paul Haven, «US Officials Ask Cuba to Release Jailed American», The Associated Press, February 19, 2010.
19 Andrea Rodriguez, «Contratista de EEUU violó soberanía de Cuba, dice alto dirigente», The Associated Press, December 11, 2010.
20 Ley de protección de la independencia nacional y la economía de Cuba (LEY Nº. 88), Artículo 11.
21 U.S. Code, Title 22, Chapter 11, Subchapter II, § 611, iii «Definitions»; § 618, a, 1 «Violations; false statements and willful omissions».
22 Code Pénal, Partie législative, Livre IV, Titre Ier, Chapitre I, Section 3, Article 411-8.
23 William Booth, «Cuba Seeks 20 Years for Md. Man», The Washington Post, February 5, 2011. Paul Haven, « Cuban court convicts American Alan Gross of crimes against state; 15 year sentence », The Associated Press, March 12, 2011.
24 Paul Haven, «Cuba Seeks 20-Year Jail term for Detained American», The Associated Press, February 4, 2011.
25 Ginger Thompson, «Wife of American Held in Cuba Pleads for His Release and Apologizes to Castro», The New York Times, October 24, 2010.
26 Cuban Democracy Act, Titulo XVII, Artículo 1705, 1992.
27 Along the Malecon, «Exclusive: Q & A with USAID», October 25, 2010. http://alongthemalecon.blogspot.com/2010/10/exclusive-q-with-usaid.html (site consulted on October 26, 2010); Tracey Eaton, «U.S. government aid to Cuba is in the spotlight as contractor Alan Gross marks one year in a Cuban prison», El Nuevo Herald, December 3, 2010.
30 Jessica Gresko, «US Man Jailed in Cuba Can Call Home More Often», The Associated Press, October 26, 2010.
31 Anthony Boadle, «Exclusive: American Held in Cuba Expresses Regret to Raul Castro», op. cit.; Jeff Frank, «Factbox: Jailed U.S. Contractor, Sour U.S.-Cuba Relations», Reuters, October 24, 2010.
32 Anthony Boadle, «Exclusive: American Held in Cuba Expresses Regret to Raul Castro», op. cit.
33 EFE, «EEUU no negocia liberación de Alan Gross», February 8, 2011.
34 Andrea Rodriguez, «Contratista de EEUU violó soberanía de Cuba, dice alto dirigente», op. cit.
35 Supreme Court of the United States, «Brief of Amici Curiae of José Ramos-Horta, Wole Soyinka, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nadine Gordimer, Rigoberta Menchú, José Saramago, Zhores Alferov, Dario Fo, Gunter Grass, and Máeread Corrigan Maguire in support of the petition for writ of certiorari», N° 08-987, http://www.freethefive.org/legalFront/amicusnobel.pdf (site consulted on March 12, 2009). See also http://www.freethefive.org/resourceslegal.htm (site consulted on March 12, 2009)
36 Agence France-Presse, «Advierten sobre eventual canje de presos con EEUU», September 2, 2010.
37 EFE, «Aseguran que liberar a Gross es beneficioso», February 16, 2011.
Salim Lamrani, PhD in Iberian and Latin American Studies of the Paris Sorbonne-Paris IV University is a professor in charge of courses at the Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV University and the Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University. He is a French journalist, and specialist on the Cuba - United States relations. He has recently published: Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais. Salim.Lamrani@univ-mlv.fr