It is difficult to be against artistic exchanges with any country, including Castro’s Cuba, no matter how repressive and anti-American their regimes might be. Yet, conducting business with them as if they were normal governments emboldens them in their repression at home and hostility toward America abroad.
Take the case of USAID employee Alan Gross, who gave cell phones and a lap top to Cubans. He has been in the hands of Havana’s political police since Dec. 5. His imprisonment is an obvious attempt by the Castro brothers to blackmail the United States.
He has yet to be formally charged, and he is no more a spy than the thousands of foreigners who travel to Cuba every year to engage in unspeakable activities such as purchasing sexual favors from young Cubans, including children, without incurring the wrath of the regime.
This is not the first time that foreigners talking with Cuban dissidents have gotten in trouble. Europeans, including journalists and members of the European Parliament, have been expelled. In one instance, two Czechs — one of whom was a member of parliament and a former finance minister in post-Communist Czechoslovakia — were similarly accused and spent not quite four weeks in prison. Gross has been at state security headquarters for five months and counting.
Imprisoning Americans is the least of Havana’s crimes. On Feb. 24, 1996, two small Brothers to the Rescue aircraft searched for refugees over international waters. Although they were flying in international airspace, they provided their coordinates to Havana’s air-traffic controllers. They were blown out of the sky by Cuban MIGs. Raul Castro, then Cuba’s minister of armed forces, gave medals to the murderers.
Secretary of State Madeline Albright denounced their cowardice, and the White House said that the United States would not rest until the killers would be punished.
Fourteen years later — three presidents have been at the White House — and the families of the murdered Americans and one legal U.S. resident still wait for the killers’ names to be sent to Interpol, so that if they ever travel abroad, they would be brought to justice. No one in Washington can explain why the referral to Interpol has yet to be made or why, while an innocent American remains in Castro’s jails, Cuban “official” artists tour the United States where they are propagandists of the regime while earning thousands of dollars, a big chunk of which goes to the regime.
Credit it to Washington’s “aggressive niceness” toward Havana, a policy begun in the last phase of the previous administration and which has yet to bear fruit. Fidel Castro said recently that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a hypocrite. It does not bode well for Alan Gross’ release.
Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.