Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Trading Away Cuba Policy

by Elliott Abrams
October 14, 2011

Israel’s swap of roughly one thousand prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit demonstrates the extremely difficult choices any decent country faces when dealing with governments or terrorist groups that hold human life cheap. Whatever one’s view of Israel’s decision to make this swap, it is worth noting that Israel is exchanging prisoners–not changing its policies toward terrorism.

This point becomes important when one discovers what the United States was apparently willing to give Cuba in exchange for the freedom of Alan Gross, a USAID contractor who is being held as a hostage in Havana. According to the Associated Press, the Cuban regime was told that the United States would not only free a Cuban spy held in prison here, but was “willing to consider”:

removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; reducing spending on Cuban democracy promotion programs like the one that led to the hiring of Gross; authorizing U.S. companies to help Cuba clean up oil spills from planned offshore drilling; improving postal exchanges; ending a program that makes it easier for Cuban medical personnel to move to the United States….

Now, an administration spokesman told the A.P. that  “the offer was only to discuss those issues after Gross was released, with no guarantees that U.S. policies would change.” That is not a significant demurral, because it admits that in exchange for Gross’s freedom we were willing not only to engage in a prisoner swap but to bring into question key elements of our policy toward Cuba. It is especially offensive that we were willing to negotiate over support for democracy in Cuba, for that would mean that the unjust imprisonment of Gross had given the Castro dictatorship a significant victory. The implications for those engaged in similar democracy promotion activities elsewhere are clear: local regimes would think that imprisoning an American might be a terrific way to get into a negotiation about ending such activities.

Every American administration faces tough choices in these situations, but the Obama administration has made a great mistake here. Our support for democracy should not be a subject of negotiation with the Castro regime.



Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Humberto Capiro

    Mr. Gross had a receipt to bring this equipment into Cuba and the Cuban Government knew this very well (see article below). There is also testimony that the Jewish Community knew of his work (see article below) and that he had been there many times. I also want to point out that the International Press was not allowed inside the courtroom (see article below) on any of his proceedings! There is a BIG difference on the case of the Cuban 5 and Mr. Gross. There are more than 11 million Cuban prisoners that are on that jail we call Cuba for over 52 years. No internet, no free press, no freedom to travel abroad, to buy homes, cars!

    SAN DIEGO CHANNEL 10 : With American In Cuban Prison, Wife Hopes For Clemency- Alan Gross Convicted Of Trying To Subvert Cuban Gov’t – From Jill Dougherty,CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
    The equipment is illegal in Cuba without government permission, but a source close to the case told CNN that “at trial, the defense presented a receipt from Cuban Customs to demonstrate the Cubans were both aware of and approved what Alan brought in.”

    “The Cuban government did not charge Alan with bringing illegal equipment,” says the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “The charge and conviction were on crimes against the state, in other words, activity to undermine the sovereignty of Cuba, which is simply preposterous.”


    CBS NEWS: Cuban Jewish leader knew imprisoned American-First member of Cuba’s small Jewish community admits knowing and talking to American Alan Gross, imprisoned for allegedly smuggling illegal satellite communication devices-By Portia Siegelbaum

    Miller is the first member of Cuba’s small Jewish community to admit knowing and talking to Gross.”I know the person. I know exactly the person you’re referring to,” he said in a phone conversation with CBS.”I met him at the Jewish community [the building housing Beth Shalom Temple, known as the Patronato, the largest Jewish community center in the country]. He came there more than once,” Miller said responding to questions.Adela Dworin, who took over as president of the Temple following the death of Miller’s grandfather Jose Miller in 2006, had denied knowing Gross when asked shortly after the American’s arrest in December 2009. More recently she told reporters that so many Americans come to the Temple, she simply didn’t know if he had been one of them.Miller said he won’t speak on camera until after the trial, adding, “Let me tell you, the solution to the problem is coming very soon. It’s complicated. It’s hard even for me.”

    NPR : In Cuba, Jailed American Alan Gross Faces Trial

    BLOCK: Now, foreign journalists, I understand, are not allowed into the courtroom to cover the trial. You were outside the courthouse today. What were you able to learn there?

    MIROFF: That’s right. He’s being tried in a small municipal courthouse far away from the city center. Gross is there with his wife, his U.S. attorney, his Cuban attorney and U.S. consular officials. And the Cuban media, the state-run media is being allowed in and that may be a sign that the proceedings are going to show up on television soon. I think in some ways it’s not just Gross that’s on trial, it’s also the entire USAID program here in Cuba that the government wants to prosecute.



  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    There is absolutely no comparison between Israel’s decision and what allegedly the USA was prepared to do before during or after Gross was released. For one thing, Gross is still in Cuba and in Israel 1000 terrorists will be released in exchange for one kidnapped soldier. If you’ve not formed an opinion about this, speak to the happy Shalit family and then talk to any of the thousands of bereaved Israelis when they see the terrorist who caused their pain on the list of those being freed.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Extortion is where you find it and relative value depends on the price you’re willing to pay .

  • Posted by Kerry Mcclatcher

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

  • Posted by cook bbq

    What you said was actually very reasonable. But, what about this? what if you added a little content? I ain’t saying your content is not solid, however suppose you added a title to possibly get people’s attention? I mean Pressure Points » Trading Away Cuba Policy is kinda plain. You could look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create article titles to get viewers to open the links. You might add a video or a picture or two to grab people excited about everything’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it could make your posts a little bit more interesting.

  • Posted by kasor

    Pressure Points » Trading Away Cuba Policy Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

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