Over at the Foreign Policy blog, Yochi Dreazen penned a piece about the unlawful detention of a U.S. government subcontractor, Alan Gross. The piece does a good job outlining the facts in the case as well as some of the behind the scene maneuvering that is taking place to secure Gross’s release from Cuban jail. What Dreazen leaves out, I will attempt to fill in.
The only reason the Cuban regime is holding a U.S. citizen hostage is to secure concessions from the Obama Administration. What concessions? Most people think, as Dreazen details in his piece, that the Cubans just want the release of several Cuban spies. Part of that may be true, however, I think it is a lot more that.
The release of four Cuban spies in U.S. federal prison is a sideshow, the low-hanging political fruit. The regime does not really need their release. Heck, several dozen have been expelled from the United States over this case. There are plenty more in the ranks to take their place. Cuba’s bigger play is the easing of economic sanctions.
The Communist Party of Cuba desperately needs hard currency and debt relief. Why? The island economy is crumbling. People are hungry and starting to look for a better deal. The revolution failed long ago, not its a matter of survival.
Cubans may be political troglodytes, but they are experts at exploiting our political system. The sanctions are working and the Communist Party needs relief. In order to do this, the regime uses whatever it can to leverage for what it needs. It uses the Gross situation, not just Gross, to exact concessions from the U.S.
If Gross was not a U.S. intelligence agent, the Obama Administration is playing a dangerous game. Rather than play diplomatic footsie with the regime, it should be ratcheting up economic pressure to secure the release of Gross. With the support of the pro-engage Cuba lobby in Congress and this town, it has done the opposite. And, in the process, these people, along with the Cuban regime, have put Gross’s life in danger. I wonder if our Virginia governor-elect did anything to secure Gross release when he went to Cuba?
The Alan Gross case has little to do with spies, and all to do with normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations. At least it has devolved into this over the course of many years. To secure Gross’s release, increase economic sanctions. Stop licensing the export of food for use in Cuba’s tourism industry. Clamp down hard on remittances. Most importantly: temporarily suspend people-to-people travel. You’ll see how quickly Alan Gross will come home, where he belongs.