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US subcontractor gets 15-year jail term in Cuba. Can Washington spring him?
State Department officials and U.S. legislators have repeatedly warned that relations with Cuba will remain lousy as long as Gross sits in jail. But even after Gross’s arrest, the Obama Administration continued taking measured steps to lighten half-century-old U.S. economic sanctions against the Castro government. This month, the Treasury Department authorized nine new U.S. cities and San Juan, Puerto Rico to begin operating charter flights to Cuba.
Some analysts speculate Cuba will soon release Gross on humanitarian grounds, having sent a clear message that the USAID programs will not be tolerated. Pardoning Gross wouldn’t bring praise to Havana, but would at least remove a major roadblock to better ties, they say, whereas keeping him locked up is of little strategic benefit in the long term.
There has been a subtle shift in the way Cuba’s state media have referred to Gross since his trial, increasingly depicting him as an unfortunate casualty of flawed U.S. policies. Gross’s trial was closed to foreign media, but government reports said he admitted to being “manipulated” by the U.S. government and his employer, Maryland’s Development Alternatives International, Inc, which has since shut down its Cuba programs.
Jewish groups and activists in the U.S., including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, have urged Cuban President Raul Castro to let Gross go home, with Jackson offering to mediate personally.
But Cuba may not be in such a forgiving mood. The Castro government has insisted in recent weeks that the American government is actively engaged in a cyber war against the island, trying to plant clandestine communication networks on the island to aid Castro opponents and stir unrest. And the USAID programs Cuba despises remain operational.
A Cuban government television program last week detailed the alleged efforts of another USAID-backed effort by the U.S. organization Freedom House to smuggle internet satellites onto the island, painting them to look like boogie boards.