Monday, December 3, 2012

Cuba: Imprisonment of an Institutional Contractor: Not One of USAID's Finest Moments

According to The Associated Press, Alan Gross, 63, who was sent to Cuba to implement a US Government-funded Agency for International Development (USAID) project in 2009, has been languishing in a Cuban prison. Yet, both Mr. Gross' employer, a Maryland-based NGO, Development Alternatives, Inc., and USAID itself, have done next to nil to relinquish the American from a 15-year prison Cuba.

COMMENT: As a former director of security at USAID, I must strongly suggest that somewhere, amidst the agency's massive file system, electronic or otherwise, there is a written threat assessment that documents the level of risk of sending Mr. Gross to Cuba to set up Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community and the possible repercussions, including imprisonment.

If USAID never assessed the potential threat to Gross in writing if he implemented the project on Cuban soil, they clearly should have.

In the absence of a proactive and deliberate written internal review that Mr. Gross potentially could be jailed for performing USAID's work in Cuba, the American consultant now faces the prospects of spending the rest of his life in jail in Cuba, which no doubt will influence his longevity.  

Alan Gross is now 63. If he serves 15 years in prison in Cuba, he will be 78 years of age in 2026. So much for his "golden years." 

Unfortunately for the Gross Family, more energy and political equity was expended to release three naive American hikers not working for the US Government who wandered into Iran  in 2009 and were subsequently jailed as spies.

Whether the three Americans were spies or not is moot. The fact is the Iranian introduced NO evidence to substantiate their claim that the Americans were spies. 

What is most telling; however, is that the Obama Administration permitted the Government of Oman to use its "good offices" to pay the Iranian government US$1,395,000 in "bail" so that the three Americans could return home to the US.

Interestingly, it is the same Obama Administration that has used NO political clout to facilitate the release of Alan Gross from a 15-year prison sentence, even though both former President Jimmy Carter and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and a former US ambassador to the United Nations, visited Cuba in 2011. Both returned from Cuba empty-handed.  
In September 2012, 44 senators signed a letter to Cuba's president calling for  Gross' release. The Gross Family's attorney, Jared Genser, wrote a letter to the United Nations' anti-torture expert complaining about Gross' medical care. In both cases, no positive response.
Judy Gross, Alan's wife, also recently filed a US$60 million lawsuit against the US government and the Maryland-based contracting firm that hired Gross to perform USAID's work in Cuba.

Even Alan Gross himself, who had completed five trips to Cuba in conjunction with the USAID project, acknowledged in his written reports on the project that his effort was "very risky business."

Based upon my 35 years in international security work, most of it with the Federal government, I would have to concur with Mrs. Gross that it was imprudent and cavalier of the US Government to send Alan Gross to Cuba on  a project fraught with considerable personal risk.

If I had been director of security of USAID in 2009, I would have strongly recommended against such a project, particularly in Cuba.  
Anywhere else in the world would have been fine, but clearly NOT in Cuba.
Now, here's the interesting part of this. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Cuba will not release Gross without a similar gesture by the US Government. In essence, Cuba is apparently interested in seeing the so-called "Cuban Five," Cuban citizens convicted of espionage in the US, released. Yet, the Federal government has apparently discounted such an exchange out of hand.

Regardless of what the US Government does or doesn't do, vis-á-vis Mr. Gross' 15-year prison term, the fact is that Alan Gross didn't put himself there: USAID and Development Alternatives did.

No doubt, Mr. Gross was sent to Cuba by funds appropriated for USAID and signed a contract to perform USAID work in Cuba, albeit "high-risk" work.

If Development Alternatives and USAID had never asked Mr. Gross to perform government work in Cuba, he would be a free man today. Very sad.