Earlier this month, U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross was sentenced by a Cuban court to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.” Mr. Gross‘ attorney, Peter J. Kahn, concluded in February that his client was caught in the middle of a long-standing political dispute between Cuba and the United States. I agree.
The freeing of Oscar Elias Biscet from prison on March 11 is connected to the Gross case. Mr. Biscet is a leading political prisoner in Cuba who served more than 11 years in prison for his steadfast advocacy of peaceful opposition to the communist regime. It seems likely the Cuban authorities could be trying to link Gross‘ ultimate fate to the freeing of the five Cuban intelligence agents who were convicted of espionage in 2001 by U.S. courts. This would be pure blackmail, making Mr. Gross a hostage.
On the other hand, if Cuba releases Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds, it likely will be in an effort to score brownie points with the U.S. government. It might argue that the freeing of Mr. Gross and Mr. Biscet should lead to the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo and travel restrictions against Cuba at a time when the Cuban economy is in shambles.
Cuban authorities are not known for making peaceful gestures without expecting something of value in return. Let’s hope President Obama takes a page from their book with regard to the Gross situation.
JORGE E. PONCE