"If you ever meet (Carlos Luis Pardo), you will probably see him lovingly carrying a newborn kitten in his hands, or taking care of one of his persecuted friends." -Cubalog.EU
"Let him rot." -Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
It took Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo just three words to dismiss the New York Times editorial on Alan Gross. It urged President Obama to swap three convicted Cuban spies in exchange for Cuba releasing our USAID subcontractor. Pardo responded: "Let Him Rot."
With the brevity befitting a Cuban fiction writer and blogger, recently welcomed by Brown University as an International Writers Project Fellow, Pardo laid out the hard-liners' true position on getting this American home from his Havana prison.
Mr. Pardo has said even worse things about Mr. Gross; but, just six months ago, in remarks at Johns Hopkins University, he spoke about the case with kitten-like compassion:
"While I talk here, an American citizen under contract by USAID, Alan Gross, is being held hostage since December 2009 in a Cuban jail, serving a 15-year sentence for charges that included espionage. A Jew himself, he was just helping the Cuban Jewish community to have a ready access to the internet, since the right to independent information is not recognized by my government."
You see, it really works for prominent supporters of U.S. sanctions against Cuba like Mr. Pardo -- photographed here with Senators Bob Menendez (NJ) and Marco Rubio (FL) -- to keep Alan Gross right where he is. His continued captivity is the biggest obstacle to the White House and the Congress making big changes in Cuba policy, while his religious identity and the misstated purpose of his mission in Cuba symbolize their case against Cuba so perfectly, so long as he serves his entire 15-year sentence in Havana.
This is why they insist, month after month, year after year, that there's only one proper way for the U.S. to seek Alan Gross's freedom; that is, by Cuba's government letting him go unconditionally, which Cuba has demonstrated month after month, year after year, it is simply unwilling to do.
The "logic" of their case, as they express it, is as follows. First, as Senator Rubio says, Alan Gross was "wrongfully jailed in the first place." Second, the only correct way to secure his freedom is by the administration making, as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tweeted with Pardo-like pithiness: "No concessions." Third, unless Cuban government releases Alan Gross unconditionally, as Senator Rubio says, "the U.S. should put more punitive measures on the Castro regime."
In fairness, these remarks reflect the public posture of the Obama administration. Secretary of State John Kerry is not the only U.S. official in delivering the message, as he did in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee: "Alan Gross is wrongly imprisoned ... We are not going to trade as if it is a spy for a spy, which [the Cubans] are trying to allege."
This is what made the New York Times editorial and its airtight case for the prisoner swap, so timely and powerful, and why it elicited the blogger's "Let Him Rot" riposte.
What was Alan Gross really doing in Cuba? The editorial explains he was pursuing a "covert pro-democracy" initiative that is illegal under Cuban law:
"Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access."
If the Cubans won't release him without conditions, what can the U.S. do? Again, the editorial says:
There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.
What more can the swap accomplish?
"A prisoner exchange could pave the way toward re-establishing formal diplomatic ties, positioning the United States to encourage positive change in Cuba through expanded trade, travel opportunities and greater contact between Americans and Cubans. Failing to act would maintain a 50-year cycle of mistrust and acts of sabotage by both sides."
Rather than working to end the stand-off, this is why Pardo, like others, is rooting for Alan to remain in Havana 'rotting' in jail, and why the Times is right to call upon President Obama to act.
Perhaps you think Pardo was ashamed for spilling the beans on the strategy, or for the insensate nature of his post. Think again, or ask yourself, why did he keep this tweet right where it is?
Alan Gross will be taken soon from Cuba to Africa to fight Ebola: if he survives, he'll be free. If he dies, @USAID will take him to U.S.
— Orlando Luis Pardo (@OLPL) November 3, 2014