Over again, the equation has failed. Once and again, there will be no swap or anything like that. The five Cuban spies will continue serving their long sentences in North-American jails while the American businessman Alan Gross, arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009, will have to find new strength to keep alive the hope that he might one day leave the cell in which he was sentenced to spend the total of 15 years of his life.

Over two years after the arrest of Gross, one must still wonder how could the U.S. citizen be condemned for the mere fact that he was carrying some satellite communication equipment he had brought for a small Jewish community in Cuba.

The charge seems to have been fabricated in order to provide a legal pretext to support a case which would otherwise be clearly considered kidnapping. The thing is that the communist regime needed one token for the game to end in a draw, and the case of Alan Gross came in handy. It would never occur to the American that his captors could be so ruthless. On their part, the wise men who had hammered out the plan believed that there would soon be a prisoner swap, that is, that the U.S would release the five Cuban counter-intelligence agents in exchange for the U.S. citizen. Their trust in the success of their plan was so great that even Fidel Castro dared to publicly promise that the “Cuban Five” would return to their motherland before the end of 2011.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently ratified the U.S. government policy, refusing to accept the exchange of the five prisoners held in the U.S. for a man who only intended to help Cuban Jews to gain access to the Internet, and who should never have been imprisoned. Thus, the swap that the Cuban leaders were dreaming of has been doomed to failure. When asked to comment on the “Cuban Five”, the senior official said that she believed that they had been tried in compliance with all procedural safeguards, and added that the case falls under the jurisdiction of courts in a country where democratic mechanisms are respected.

The dispute, which has been almost constantly causing great tension between the two countries, has become even more bitter after the Cuban government decided to put Gross in prison and when it refused to grant him a even a temporary permit to visit his mother, who was dying of terminal cancer.

You don’t need to be an expert to understand what’s the group of leaders exercising absolute control over all institutions in the country, including courts, aiming for. In this case, the Cuban government wants to continue pushing the United States for a swap, even for a partial one, in which it would exchange Gross for two or three members of the disbanded “Red Avispa” organization, who were condemned in 1998 after a close follow-up by the FBI.

Although there is no way to confirm it, many suspect that the March 2003 arrest and conviction of 75 regime opponents and members of an alternative civil society was part of a plan with the same goal. However, this plan also failed to produce the desired results.

Was it just a coincidence that the General Intelligence Directorate (DGI), based in Havana, arrested exactly 15 pro-democracy leaders per each of the five men held captive in various prisons across North-America? I believe it wasn’t. The fathers of the plan hoped that they could use these prisoners to put the Washington authorities under pressure.

Yet, after some time their hopes disappeared. The spies remained in their cells while over 95% of the “Group of 75” did not serve even half of their long sentences. All of them had to be released (although conditionally) due to international condemnation expressed by various foreign governments and important personalities from the very beginning of this wave of repression, one of the biggest in the long history of the Castro regime.

Thus, neither the Cuban citizens arrested in spring 2003 nor the detained North-American hostage will help bring back the five men engaged in secret activities on foreign territory. It’s hard to imagine how this conflict will end. It seems that the tactic of arresting defenceless citizens and presenting them as subversives somehow doesn’t work. Gross should be released and the government should try out other tactics.

Autor

Olivera Castillo is a former political prisoner. He published number of books. He lives in the old part of Havana.

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