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."
What seems to gall Schneiderman is not Gross' imprisonment, but rather that Congress mandated the democracy-promotion program in Cuba in the first place. Schneiderman characterizes the U.S. government's continuation of such programs as a failed opportunity to do away with "the antiquated politics of the Cold War." He is correct that the programs are modeled on those that successfully cracked the Iron Curtain and that, after the collapse of European communism, were wholeheartedly endorsed by Lech Walesa, Václav Havel, and others. But he is wrong to call the program "antiquated" when Cuba remains a Stalinist-style state. The programs' fundamental goal remains to break through the Castro regime's control of information that isolates the Cuban people and keeps them in bondage.
That the democracy-promotion program annoys the Cuban regime does not make it a failure of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, there is no evidence to support Schneiderman's claim that canceling the program would have freed Gross or produced other tangible benefits. The author recounts a 2010 conversation between Fulton Armstrong, a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and "high-level
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