The news of Gross’ release broke this morning swiftly, with multiple news sources reporting that President Obama is preparing to announce “a broad range of diplomatic and regulatory measures in what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since the 1961 embargo was imposed.”
Gross was not released as an act of charity: after a year of negotiations, President Obama also announced the release of the three remaining imprisoned spies known as part of the Cuban Five, communist intelligence officers guilty of conspiracy and espionage in the name of the communist government, particularly against US military interests.
Gross has spent five years in Cuban prison and, during most of those years, the White House under President Obama has expressed little more than “concern” regarding his deteriorating physical state. Gross was not allowed to attend his mother’s funeral, and Cuba went as far as to call US officials liars for claiming that Gross was developing health problems, despite the severe conditions in which he was being kept.
There will be a call from the American left to reward Cuba for this behavior– to ignore the depravity of arresting a 65-year-old man for attempting to provide internet access– and instead highlight the fact that, thanks to President Obama’s decision to create a moral equivalency between Gross and criminal spies, he is free. The usual spin about America’s cruelty in upholding the embargo– the kind that ignores that Cuba’s embargo on American products and American travel is far harsher than anything the White House has established– began even before Gross’s release.
Such demands necessitate a myopic view of Cuba’s thug politics that ignores the cruelty of the Cuban government towards its own people and its status as a state sponsor of terrorism. That Gross is now free does not absolve Cuba of having arrested him in the first place, much like the release of U.S. citizens Euna Lee and Lisa Ling did not usher in a new era of peace and democracy in North Korea. One America’s hard-earned comfort– even if bought, as Bowe Bergdahl’s release was, using dangerous foreign enemies as currency– should not trigger a seismic change in attitudes at the White House towards this rogue nation.
While many celebrate that Gross, a man who gave his life to helping Cubans in need when he had no overt ties to the Cuban people, is now free, they should not forget the thousands, if not millions, of victims of the Cuban regime still suffering. Just last week, on International Human Rights Day, the Cuban government arrested more than 100 dissidents for publicly expressing support for the concept of human rights, and demanding theirs be respected. Videos showing the arrest, and the manhandling of elderly protesters, are difficult to watch.
The arrests last week are harrowing, but minuscule compared to the number of incidents all year. Cuba broke records for the decade in 2014 for political arrests, with more than 1,000 in June. In one notable instance in July, the Cuban government arrested 100 women for attempting to participate in a Catholic mass.
In addition to punishing Cubans with the courage to openly avow their love of freedom, the Cuban government is responsible for funding and providing safe haven to one of the most violent terrorist groups on earth, the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The government of Colombia is currently undergoing a “peace talks” process with the FARC, whose leaders have been given asylum in Cuba. Colombian leaders have traveled to Havana multiple times to discuss the integration of the FARC into peaceful society, but have received only broken ceasefires and more kidnappings in exchange. While there are few estimates in history of the number of total deaths at the hands of the FARC, they can be estimated into the hundreds of thousands– all, in some part, supported by the Cuban government.
The release of Alan Gross is great news for Alan Gross, and a welcome happy ending so rare in the history of those who dare defy the Cuban government. But it does not change the nature of this thug regime, nor should it change American attitudes towards its support of violence and oppression.