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Counterproductive Contradictions Undermine U.S. Policy on Cuba

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In an interview with Telemundo, reported by the Cuban Colada blog, Secretary of State Clinton sounded a cautiously optimistic note about the fate of imprisoned USAID subcontractor Alan Gross:

he should be released, and at the very least, on humanitarian terms. He should be sent home to his family, and I'm hoping that the Cuban Government will do that...We don't want to take any actions or say anything that will undermine the chances for this man to come home to his family.

Yet in that same interview, she made assertions that could force the Cubans to be tough in their handling of Mr. Gross in order to defend the legitimacy of their own laws:

Alan Gross was in Cuba to help people literally connect with the rest of the world, and as we're seeing around the world, that's a tide that is coming. You're not going to be able to push it back out to sea, even in Cuba. He has served a very long time for doing what was not in any way criminal, in our view.

And similarly with Univision, "He should not have been brought before a court and charged with crimes that he did not commit."

I do not disagree with her conclusion: "We believe he should be released and returned to his family on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible."

But I am astounded by her efforts to still argue for Alan's innocence.

PJ Crowley, before he had the occupationally fatal effrontery to tell the truth about the harsh treatment in a Marine Corps brig of suspected WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, had also appropriately dealt with post trial questions from the press this way on March 7:

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Could you comment, please - I'm sorry - could you comment, please, on the Alan Gross trial in Cuba, which finishes argument portion on Saturday? Was the State Department and USAID aware of what Mr. Gross was doing in Cuba? And does this indicate that there should be more oversight for USAID contractors since they can drastically change the diplomacy between the State Department and in Cuba?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right. Let me - first of all, we understand that the trial has completed and we are awaiting word of the verdict. It remains our view that he should be immediately and unconditionally released. He is a private contractor. He was working for DAI. And regarding precisely what he was doing, I'll defer to DAI to describe it.

QUESTION: But does - but then as a contractor receiving taxpayer money from USAID, you're not aware of what he was doing?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, no, I didn't say that. But I - we, of course, have oversight over contractors around the world. But as to precisely what he was doing and its relationship to an existing contract, I'll defer to DAI to describe that.

Cuba bears some of the blame for leaving space for Secretary Clinton's statements. By closing the trial to the international press, it missed the opportunity to create a public record of the violations of its law. Indirect accounts have emerged from Jeff Franks in Reuters:

Gross, 61, was convicted of "acts against the independence and territorial
integrity of the state" for working to set up clandestine Internet networks
for Cuba dissidents using "sophisticated" communications technology....

The United States has repeatedly demanded his release. It has contended from
the beginning that Gross was only setting up Internet access for the
island's small Jewish community, which numbers about 1,200.

But Cuban prosecutors said he targeted young people, universities, religious
groups, women's groups, racial groups and cultural types.

A Cuban source tells me that closed trials are the norm in national security cases. A US government source argues it was because their case was weak. Is it conceivable that Cuba wanted the US to know the evidence it had with minimal public embarrassment for officials who had insisted on his innocence?

A second example from recent testimony to a House Committee illustrates the deeper problem of talking past each other:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Congressman, very quickly, and I'll be happy to get you more on - for the record - we share your commitment to freedom and democracy for the Cuban people. That's an absolute, ironclad commitment. I've had that commitment myself personally. This Administration and President share it. We deplore the injustice toward Alan Gross. We want him home. He needs to be home with his family immediately. And we mourned the loss of Mr. Zapata, the mistreatment of his mother, and all of the other abuses by this Cuban Government.

So we share the same goals and we share the same emotions. Our decision to try to engage more with the Cuban Government, only indirectly by helping the Cuban people, is intended to try to strengthen direct engagement and provide more support for grassroots initiatives. So we can certainly disagree about the tactics, but I think we have total agreement about what we're attempting to achieve in terms of goals.

From the Cuban perspective it was "same old, same old", an agenda of regime change in modern clothing.

To American ears, she is only repeating a truism, no doubt to satisfy Cuban American and other conservative committee members. The official goal of the US internationally is that every country have human rights and a democratic system in accord with our professed values. If pressed, the Secretary would no doubt voice the same objective with China, Vietnam, Russia and lots of other countries, not least, if really pressed, Saudi Arabia. US officials must always express such a goal and find it politically problematic to acknowledge the practical reality of accepting contrary political systems based on mutual respect or at least mutual interest.

This is similar to Fidel Castro's reflections on the inherent evil of the US economic system and drive to rule the world. If his comments were taken as Cuban government policy, there would be no hope of reconciliation between countries with such conflicting worldviews.

For Cuba the problem is that as long as it faces the objective reality of unremitting economic warfare via unilateral US embargo, it finds it hard to take the risk that behind nuanced rhetoric and gestures like purposeful travel lies a new realism intended to create the basis for normal relations.

Tracey Eaton posted a WikiLeaks cable last December on alongthemalecon that contains this conclusion from Jonathan Farrar, head of the US Interests Section, which may more accurately reflect the Obama administration's stance on Cuba:

The GOC [Government of Cuba] has no reason to eschew the prospect of better relations in the current state of play. However, political control is paramount to the current regime, and it will not hesitate to shut the door if it feels its authority undermined. The key for the United States is to continue promoting reform and greater space for Cubans, while keeping the GOC engaged and interested in areas where it is of benefit to us.

I hope Alan Gross is released soon. I hope equally that the US government, if it seriously wishes to improve bilateral relations, at least privately recognizes and acknowledges to Cuba that what he did was wrong in respect to Cuban law and will not be repeated.