On the first day of Chanukah, the global Jewish community heard the wonderful news that at long last, Alan Gross, an American Jew who had been unjustly held captive by Cuba for five years, had been freed as part of a landmark agreement between the Obama administration and the Castro regime.
This long-awaited news came amid increasing concern about the state of Mr. Gross’ health. The 65-year-old Gross, who went to Cuba to work for the federal government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, had lost 100 pounds, most of the vision in his right eye, and a number of his teeth. He had also developed hip problems.
In April, after an AP story revealed that USAID secretly created a communications network to stir unrest on the island shortly after Gross was arrested, he went on a hunger strike for more than a week. It was his 92-year-old mother, Mrs. Evelyn Gross, who had persuaded him to start eating again. After she passed away in June, Gross was not allowed to return to the United States to attend her funeral. After her death, Gross became withdrawn and in July, during a visit from his wife and daughter, he said goodbye and told them he would not see them again while imprisoned. Last week, upon his release, Gross was exceedingly gracious, and in his public statement — after noting that it was the first day of Chanukah — he focused on expressing his gratitude to President Obama, his wife Mrs. Judy Gross, and his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, who worked tirelessly for his release.
Gross was an innocent pawn, held by the Cubans as part of a much larger chess game, and word of his release should be a source of joy for all civilized people.
Yet, this historic deal leaves numerous unanswered questions.
For one thing, the key elements of the agreement, which apparently was brokered — at least in part — by the Vatican, have been in place for five years. The fact that the American boycott against Cuba wasn’t having a desired result has been obvious for decades. What took so long for this agreement to happen, causing Mr. Gross so much hardship? It is likely that both countries held out as long as possible for a better deal until pragmatism won out, which in itself is an important lesson in international brinkmanship: Unless you have a valid reason to believe circumstances will shift in your favor, they are unlikely to.
Some members of Congress — on both sides of the aisle — have leveled serious criticism against the deal.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American lawmaker, expressed concerns that this constituted a “swap of convicted spies for an innocent American.”
“President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government,” he said in a statement. “Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went even further, saying that the deal “set a price on the head of every American abroad.”
Yet what these congressmen failed to address is the fact that in essence, this landmark agreement consisted of two separate parts. One was — even without the involvement of Gross — a spy swap. While the release of Gross was a key part of the deal, it also included the release of Rolando “Rollie” Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban spy who had spent nearly 20 years in prison after working for the United States. American officials said the spy was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursued in recent decades, including convicted Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers and a group known as the Cuban Five. Trujillo reportedly avoided the death penalty only because his family had ties to the Cuban intelligence service.
Granted, the release of Trujillo and Gross came at a price, the U.S. freed the three remaining members of the Cuban Five who were jailed in Florida. But that is what spy swaps are always about. Even if Gross had never been seized the deal was a fair one, so the opposition to deal is perplexing, to say the least.
The second part of the deal was the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba, a move that Rubio and other members of congress have lambasted.
But the question that they fail to answer is what makes Cuba any different from China, Saudi Arabia, and a long list of other brutal dictatorships that America is on excellent terms with? Even at the height of the Cold War, when millions perished in the Soviet gulags, the United States and the U.S.S.R., had formal diplomatic relations.
Mr. Rubio: It is time to move past the rhetoric and apply some cold logic. The boycott of Cuba would have been a wonderful idea had it worked, but it didn’t and it was high time for a new approach.