The New York Times editorial board made what must be one of the most outrageous recommendations on U.S.-Cuba policy that I’ve read in some time: swapping Cuban spies held in U.S. federal prison for Alan Gross, an American being held hostage by the regime on trumped up charges. You can read the New York Times editorial, here. If you would like some background on the Alan Gross matter, follow this link.
Among the many important nuggets that the New York Times editors fail to share with readers is that Alan Gross was not a spy or agent of the U.S. government. Mr. Gross’s only crime – if one can call it so – was engaging in the very activities embargo easers say are key to better relations with Cuba: people-to-people contact and travel. In any event, swapping Cuban spies for Mr. Gross, a civilian, should be a non-starter. In the larger scheme of things, Cuba is not that important. Cuban leaders need reminding of that cold reality. It has no right or moral authority to bargain for anything, much less use an American citizen as an embargo-easing tool.
Rather than allow Cuba to use Mr. Gross as a political weapon, the Obama Administration should have imposed additional economic sanctions against Cuba a long time ago. As a long-time observer of U.S. policy in the Americas, I can assure you that the application of sanctions on Cuba is at its weakest point ever. This has happened because the Obama Administration has been seeking the normalization of relations with Cuba for quite some time. So even if we wanted to pressure the regime to turn over Mr. Gross, politically, that option is not viable right now.
During the course of the last few months, the Obama Administration, with the help of current as well as former Members of Congress who support closer relations with Cuba, has been engaging in talks with the Cuban government to secure Mr. Gross’s release. Gross is not the only subject on the table. One Congressional source who is unable to go on the record advises me that there are also senior Congressional staffers – Republicans and Democrats – that are also traveling to Havana for these semi-official talks. All of this, of course, is a colossal time waster.
I find it quite odd, at a certain level, amusing, that there are folks in this town who really believe that they can rationalize with regime officials. Maybe, just maybe, if we negotiated with a firm hand such talks could bear fruit. The Helms-Burton law has plenty of line items requiring action by the regime. However, what these people are doing is an end run around current law. The are weakening the U.S. position not only in Cuba, but in Venezuela as well. Yes, these talks have some Venezuela connection too. Again, colossal time waster.
Coincidentally, or not, November 2 — the same day the New York Times published the swap editorial — was also the 35th anniversary of Joanne Chesimard’s prison break from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey. Chesimard (a.k.a., Assata Shakur) — a Black Liberation Army terrorist — is the first and only woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. She has been hiding out in Cuba since at least 1984. From the FBI:
On May 2, 1973, Chesimard and a pair of accomplices were stopped by two troopers for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. At the time, Chesimard—a member of the violent revolutionary activist organization known as the Black Liberation Army—was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery.
Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One officer was wounded, and his partner—Trooper Foerster—was shot and killed at point-blank range. One of Chesimard’s accomplices was killed in the shootout and the other was arrested and remains in jail.
The Obama Administration should be pressing for Chesimard’s unconditional extradition, as well as Alan Gross’s unconditional release. The Cuban spies should stay right where they are, in federal prison.
As for the New York Times editorial board latest missive, it is just a new low in their seemingly never-ending love affair with the Communist regime in Havana.