Shadow Government

Cuba policy missteps could delay State nominee

As I have written in this space before, U.S. efforts to secure the release of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban state security jail cell have been mishandled from the beginning. Now, it appears the Obama administration decided to double-down on a losing strategy by offering to negotiate with the Castro regime important tenets ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

As I have written in this space before, U.S. efforts to secure the release of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban state security jail cell have been mishandled from the beginning. Now, it appears the Obama administration decided to double-down on a losing strategy by offering to negotiate with the Castro regime important tenets of U.S. policy towards Cuba in exchange for his release. Not only was that offer summarily rejected by the regime, but it drew the ire of important Cuban American members of Congress, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who says he wants answers before he’ll consider the recent nomination of career official Roberta Jacobson as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The latest contretemps was sparked by an Associated Press report last week that said the Obama administration informed the regime that it was prepared to negotiate, among other issues, Cuba’s well-deserved placement on the State Department’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism and the U.S. policy of supplying aid to Cubans advocating for democracy and respect for human rights. The offer was reportedly made to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting last month. 

The report caused a furor on Capitol Hill, with Senator Rubio issuing the following statement:

It’s deplorable that the U.S. government offered several unilateral concessions to the Castro regime in exchange for the release of a man who was wrongfully jailed in the first place. Rather than easing sanctions in response to hostage taking, the U.S. should put more punitive measures on the Castro regime. Until Secretary Clinton answers for this, the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere will be in question.

No one doubts the sincerity of the administration in wanting to see Alan Gross freed, but negotiating terrorist designations and U.S. democracy programs would set terrible foreign policy precedents. What is equally concerning no doubt to Senator Rubio is that, in the case of Cuba, the administration is sending the signal that these are less central components toward the fifty-year dictatorship of the Castro brothers than they are items on a list that can be disposed of for anything less than fundamental changes in Cuba.

Alan Gross does not deserve to spend another day in the Castros’ hell-hole. Of that, no one on Capitol Hill is in disagreement with the administration. But to bring him home means driving up the cost to the Castro regime of his continuing incarceration. To date, the regime has paid no tangible price for unjustly incarcerating Gross. What the administration needs to do is pivot away from offering endless concessions to an incalcitrant regime and start exacting costs. This means, for example, examining any and every revenue flow to and commercial transaction with the island, including returning to Bush administration restrictions on travel and remittances to the island — a key source of hard currency to the feeble Cuban economy — until Mr. Gross is released. Only then will the bullies in Havana have reason to reconsider the real value of their hostage.

José R. Cárdenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.

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