Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Alan Gross was no soldier but should not be left behind in Cuba

The American captive in Cuba, Alan Gross, won’t be able to attend his mother’s funeral and mourn her death with his family.

It’s a despicable decision, but the cruelty of the Cuban government is not surprising to those of us who for decades have been unable to attend the funerals of loved ones for political reasons.

Cuban-Americans understand the Gross family’s pain – and are grateful to the Maryland subcontractor who risked his freedom to take to Cuba cell phones, computers, and satellite equipment. He wanted to help the small Jewish community on the island gain access to the Internet – heroic to the free world but criminalized behavior in totalitarian regimes like Cuba’s, where the government maintains a stronghold on information.

Gross, 65 and in precarious health, has been imprisoned since 2009. He deserves not only a humanitarian furlough at this difficult time – but his freedom.

The word “humanitarian,” however, is not in the Castro brothers’ dictionary. Deceit is, and so it’s also not surprising that a top bureaucrat in the Cuban Foreign Ministry is spinning lies to quell the outrage at Gross’ treatment.

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Public opinion is important to Havana at a time when it’s poised to receive needed “foreign investors,” including Cuban-Americans, now that socialist donors to the Cuban economy in Venezuela are in turmoil.

In a hypocritical statement of “heartfelt condolences,” the Ministry’s Josefina Vidal Ferreiro asserts that Gross won’t be attending the funeral because neither the American nor the Cuban prison systems allow prisoners to travel abroad, “whatever the reasons.”

She has a short and selective memory.

The Cuban government doesn’t ever play nice – not even with civilians like Gross – but the United States does.

Convicted Cuban spy René González was allowed to return to Cuba for his father's funeral in 2013, and a federal judge allowed him to stay there provided that he renounce his U.S. citizenship.

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González was part of the “Red Avispa” (Wasp Network) that infiltrated military installations and Cuban-exile groups in Miami and passed along information to the Cuban government that led to the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down that killed four Cuban-Americans.

González and another cohort of the so-called “Cuban Five” ring are home now, and photos show González in good health and taking pleasure in the privileges that faithful servants enjoy. The other three, including the spy held responsible for the deaths, remain in prison here. Cuba has suggested trading them for Gross, and Vidal Ferreiro reiterates that in her so-sorry note.

It’s a despicable proposition – Gross was not a spy and didn’t harm anyone – but the U.S. government must not turn away from negotiations to gain his freedom.

He was no soldier, but he should not be left behind.

Sentenced to 15 years, Gross never had a shot in Cuban court, where everyone is always found guilty. Access to him has been limited to a few negotiated visitors. Photographs show an increasingly thin man who went on a hunger strike earlier this year, ended only after his sick mother implored him to do so on the phone.

Evelyn Gross, 92, suffered from lung cancer and died Wednesday in Plano, Texas.

Her son was denied seeing her one last time – and he’s being now denied a last goodbye.

What else but infamy can one expect from the Cuban government?

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