Cuba’s top court has rejected the final appeal of a U.S. government contractor sentenced to 15 years in prison, despite appeals from top American officials for his release.
Alan P. Gross, of Potomac, Md., has been held since December 2009 for distributing satellite communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. He was sentenced in March for his work, which Cuban authorities claimed was aimed at undermining the island’s Communist government.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has loudly criticized the Obama administration put out a statement: “The Cuban dictatorship is clearly using Mr. Gross to strengthen its grip on power and gain leverage with the United States. I was not surprised by this decision as we are dealing with a cruel and heinous regime that has no compassion whatsoever and whose only goal is to increase its stranglehold on the Cuban nation.” She then bashed the administration: “Upon Gross’s detainment, even before his kangaroo court trial and his unjust sentence and rejection of appeal, the Obama administration should have ended the ongoing six-month conversation with the Castro regime, suspended the opening of further airports with new charter flights to Cuba and implemented the range of sanctions that it has available. This administration must come to the realization that coddling dictators does nothing to advance the interests of the United States.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another ferocious critic of President Obama’s Cuba policy, also put out a statement:
“This is a deplorable human rights violation. It has been well documented that Mr. Gross is simply a humanitarian who was seeking to help the Jewish community in Cuba access the Internet. The Castro regime’s cowardly fear of what would happen if Cuban citizens have access to uncensored information does not justify this man’s incarceration at all, much less for 15 years. Mr. Gross’s unjust sentence is the latest example of everything that is wrong with the Castro regime. For every Alan Gross, there are many more Cubans being incarcerated, harassed and repressed for simply yearning to be free.
“The Obama administration’s insistence on moving forward with policies that put more money in this terrorist-sponsoring regime’s coffers is baffling and runs contrary to everything America should stand for. I urge President Obama to halt his misguided unilateral concessions, deny the regime the resources it needs to impose its repressive will, condemn . . . [Friday’s] decision and insist that Mr. Gross be released immediately.”
This is not a partisan affair. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), ranking Democrat of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, also put out a statement:
“It was wrong of the Cuban regime to arrest Alan Gross, it was wrong to imprison him and it was wrong to reject his appeal. Alan Gross was in Cuba to help bring the Internet to the small Jewish community — not a crime, except in a dictatorship like Cuba. Rejecting his appeal was simply unjustified and inhumane, and I call upon the Cuban regime to release Alan Gross without delay.”
The administration put out a lone sentence, devoid of any warnings or threats: “We call on the government of Cuba to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally, to allow him to return to his family and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year ago.” I’m sure that has them quaking in Havana.
Cuba’s “laws” permit clemency, so Gross could be released by the Castros any day they please. In that sense the ball is squarely in their court, all of Gross’s “legal” appeals having run out. But in another sense the ball is now in President Obama’s court. . . . But in fact the Obama administration has given the Castro regime numerous benefits, for example allowing more Americans to travel to Cuba and thereby help its economy. Some of those benefits were awarded in 2009 soon after coming into office, but others were put into place this year, even as Alan Gross sat in a Cuban prison.
It seems the relaxation of sanctions has only emboldened the dictatorship. This, of course, is the pattern everywhere under Obama. He’s tried to “reset” or engage Russia, China, Syria and Iran. None of it has inured to our benefit. And in each case, the human rights situation is much worse.
As with the economy, Obama’s weakness and lack of realism in foreign policy reveal how underqualified and inept the president is. There is just so much Congress can do in the realm of foreign affairs. In 2012 the American people can stage an intervention by evicting Obama. But it is up to the Republicans to field a candidate who can restore not just America’s economic strength but our moral and geopolitical standing.