On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama often said that he wanted a new beginning with Cuba. Yet with the president set to begin his second term, the relationship between the two countries remains largely unchanged. The single biggest reason for the status quo, according to the White House, is the dispute about Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen serving out 15-year prison sentence in Havana.
A rally for the release of Alan Gross in Florida, November 2012 (Joe Skipper / Courtesy Reuters)
In "Our Man in Havana," R. M. Schneiderman suggests that Alan Gross will not be freed from his Cuban prison unless the U.S. State Department shuts down its programs supporting democracy and human rights in Cuba. This conclusion is faulty, if not utterly ridiculous. Gross, who worked for a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, is serving a 15-year jail sentence for trying to help Havana's Jewish community connect to the Internet, an act most of the world does not recognize as a crime. In 2009, Gross was seized just before he was scheduled to fly home to the United States and held for 14 months before any charges were filed against him. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson has aptly described him as a "hostage."