It became clear last week that the release of USAID contractor Alan Gross from Cuban imprisonment was a piece of a complex international puzzle involving nothing less than the restoration of U.S.-Cuban relations after a break of more than a half-century. We now understand that Gross’ release was far more than what we were led to believe was a debate over whether he should be freed in exchange for three Cuban spies held by the United States.
The orchestration of events surrounding the Gross release were actions that only the U.S. administration could accomplish. We thank President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials involved — not only for bringing Gross home to Potomac but also for engineering the long-overdue rapprochement with Cuba. One potentially positive effect of that new reality is that it could decriminalize bringing Internet equipment to the island’s Jewish community, the very USAID assignment that got Gross arrested in the first place.
It is now clear that the players in this dramatic story fall into one of two groups: one that had the power to free Gross and one that didn’t. This second group, including many members of Congress as well as the Jewish community, contributed to the cause by keeping his name and situation in the public eye, thereby creating a political context in which the Obama administration could press for his release.
As Gross’ representative in Congress, Democrat Chris Van Hollen, told Washington Jewish Week, “All the backroom negotiations were driven by the White House and Judy Gross’ lawyer. We’ve been involved over the years to urge the president to make this a priority, which he clearly did.”
We thank Van Hollen as well as Gross’ senators in Washington, Democrats Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, for their involvement.
The Jewish community deserves significant credit for keeping Gross’ story alive through vigils, visits and other public demonstrations of support. But make no mistake about it: The Jewish community did not “bring Alan home.” In fact, as events unfolded in this case, it became clear that the influence of the Jewish community was pretty modest, so much so that Jewish organizational leaders found out about Gross’ release the same way most of the rest of us did: listening to the radio on the way to work on that happy morning of Dec. 17.