If you needed another reminder about the double standards of U.S. diplomacy relating to all issues Cuba, this week provided another powerful example.
After weeks of conflict with Egypt, and tormenting days of impasse for the families of 16 Americans held in that country as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy groups, the United States government has been able to secure their release. Americans held captive have been able to leave Egypt.
As this crisis wore on, Members of Congress threatened to cut off Egypt’s access to $1.5 billion in aid. But the deadlock was broken by intensive diplomacy with Egypt.
According to The Cable, Obama administration officials – including U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brooke Anderson of the National Security Council, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Harold Koh of the State Department –worked “furiously” to resolve the crisis. Secretary of State Clinton met twice with Egypt’s Foreign Minister. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham “pitched in.” $5 million in bail money was paid as part of the arrangement that enabled all 16 to fly out of Egypt yesterday.
Half a world away, in the comfortable confines of a Congressional hearing room, Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee explored various dimensions of the U.S. relationship with Cuba and Latin America.
Secretary of State Clinton, to her credit, said economic reforms in Cuba could lead to greater opportunity and political spaces for everyday Cubans, mentioned the releases of political prisoners in Cuba that took place in 2010-2011 and, leaning against the prevailing winds in the Committee, called Iran’s outreach to the region a failure and said no evidence could be found to verify alleged ties between Hezbollah and Latin American drug traffickers.
But in contrast to the U.S. government’s resolve in addressing the crisis affecting the U.S. prisoners in Egypt, the Secretary gave considerable ground when the Committee’s questions turned to the continuing confinement of Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence for activities funded by the regime change programs of the Helms-Burton law.
REPRESENTATIVE ALBIO SIRES (D-NJ): I know you mentioned Alan Gross before, but I just want to know that there is [sic] no negotiations going on for a swap between the Cuban spies that are imprisoned for Alan Gross. I know that we had two senators who were in Cuba a couple of days ago. And I was just wondering if — you know, if you know anything about kind of negotiations for a swap.
SEC. CLINTON: At no point, however, has the United States government been willing to give any unilateral concessions to the Castro regime or to ease sanctions as a means to secure Mr. Gross’s release. We think this should be done as a matter of humanitarian concern, as evidence that, you know, the Castro regime is, you know, willing to demonstrate that it is, you know, moving in a different direction. But it hasn’t happened yet. So we have not had any success in our diplomacy. We’d like to see Mr. Gross home. But we have made no deals. We’ve offered no concessions, and we don’t intend to do so.
The Secretary’s posture – rejecting a compromise with Cuba to secure Mr. Gross’s release – not only fails to move his case forward, but it doesn’t even satisfy the hardliners who believe, against five decades of experience, that squeezing Cuba harder will somehow spring Mr. Gross from his confinement.
They advocate ending flights to Cuba, ending family support in the form of remittances to Cuba, even expelling the small group of Cuban diplomats who function in the U.S. under the auspices of the Swiss embassy or the United Nations. At the end of the day, they would rather preserve the fiction that sanctions will break the back of the Cuban economy than engage in the kind of diplomacy that conveys legitimacy to the Cuban government –even if that puts Mr. Gross at risk of serving his entire sentence.
Surely, we can do better, as the diplomacy we employed in Egypt makes quite clear.
For more on this week in Cuba news, click here.