During the State of the Union address, you may have noticed a guy who was recently released from prison in Cuba. His name was Alan Gross, and President Obama told us, “[A]fter years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs.” Gross has been portrayed as a naive do-gooder, who the evil Cuban government treated like a spy. But the truth is at least a whole lot more complicated than that. And I would argue that the Cuban government treated Gross like a spy because Gross acted like a spy. He may not be a spy in the sense that he doesn’t work as an agent of the CIA. But he was working as a contractor for the US government doing espionage in Cuba.
What Gross was supposedly doing was setting up internet access for the Cuban Jewish community. That’s true in a sense. But as John Stoehr noted, “In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Alan Gross, through a third party, almost $600,000 to go to the island nation to install military-grade internet equipment in Jewish synagogues that could not be detected by the government in Havana.” This is the kind of equipment that only the military and intelligence agency can get their hands on. Gross very clearly and knowingly broke Cuban law and was sentenced to 15 years for “criminal acts against the independence of the Cuban nation.” That it was — just as surely as the Bay of Pigs was.
The obvious retort to this is if Jewish synagogues want to have this kind of equipment they ought to be allowed. I totally agree! But you know who doesn’t agree? The United States government. If the Cuban government sent agents into the United States to install high tech gizmos for the purpose of evading surveillance, our government would arrest those agents and throw them in prison — very likely for a lot longer than 15 years. So it is just outrageous for the United States to claim that Cuba is in the wrong here when its government acted the same way that ours would.
Let’s remember: Edward Snowden is living in Russia right now. He not only can’t come back to the United States, he can’t even leave Russia. After Evo Morales said that he would consider giving Snowden asylum in Boliva, the US government got his plane forced down in Austria where it was searched in total disregard for diplomatic protocol. Similarly, Julian Assange is effectively under house arrest at the Ecuadoran embassy in London because the US wants to put him in prison for the rest of his life.
I’m for freedom of speech and the right to privacy — in the extreme. But until my own country shares my commitment, I’m not going to complain about other countries that are similarly small minded. (And Cuba has a much more valid reason for worrying than we do.) But this is always the way in the United States — not just with the government but also with our media. If a country is an enemy, whatever it does is bad and whatever we do to it is good. I discussed this a couple of days ago regarding the different treatment we give to Venezuela and the far, far worse Saudi Arabia, American Double Standard Regarding Democracy. So Obama and the rest can claim that Cuba was wrong to imprison Alan Gross. But they would have been all for it if the parties had been reversed.