Buttressing Gross’ plea, 66 senators, led by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, wrote to Obama last month to urge that he take “whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release.”
The national interest — that deliberately obscure phrase. Gross is, first and foremost, a victim of the repressive Cuban regime. But he is also a casualty of Cuban-American politics, and Cuban-American politicians. He has not been so much abandoned by the Obama administration as assigned a lower priority.
The administration has been demanding Gross’ unconditional release, which would be nice but is not happening. Instead, Cuban officials have made clear that their price for a deal centers on a group called the Cuban Five — Cuban intelligence officers convicted in Miami in 2001 of being foreign agents and related offenses. One of the five has served his sentence and returned to Cuba; another is eligible for parole in February.
The Obama administration has insisted that the Cuban Five cannot be part of any Gross-related deal; such a linkage, the administration argues, would create a false equivalence between the five (acknowledged spies, although Cuba insists their activities were directed at Cuban exiles) and Gross (a contractor, not a spy, although that nicety might be lost on the Cuban government, given that the U.S. goal is regime change). One problem with the no-false-equivalence stance is that it leaves Gross in the ironic position that he would have been a better candidate for a trade had he been a spy. Another is that it ignores a rich history of swaps, not all spy-for-spy.
Finally, it fails to consider the tangled history of the Cuban Five. They are not the heroes of Cuban lore; one was convicted of conspiracy to murder involving Cuba’s shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes, resulting in four deaths.