The New York Times has called on President Barack Obama to exchange Alan Gross, an employee of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), imprisoned in Cuba for covert operations, for the three Cuban anti-terrorists unjustly incarcerated in the United States since 1998.
In an editorial published on November 2 entitled, “A Prisoner Swap With Cuba,” the newspaper acknowledged that Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who is serving a 15 year sentence, was arrested in Havana as a result of an irresponsible strategy on the part of the U.S. government and that a solution must be found.
The editors of The New York Times believe that Washington and Havana should study the Gross case and that of the Cubans, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino, in order to take the first steps towards normalizing relations between the two countries.
"A prisoner exchange could pave the way toward re-establishing formal diplomatic ties, positioning the United States to encourage positive change in Cuba through expanded trade, travel opportunities and greater contact between Americans and Cubans," the newspaper highlighted.
"Failing to act," it adds, "would maintain a 50-year cycle of mistrust and acts of sabotage by both sides.”
The editorial acknowledges that Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc. which had a contract with the USAID, and that, posing as a tourist, he smuggled communications equipment into the country.
According to The New York Times, U.S. officials have concluded that the only means of securing the release of Gross would be to repatriate the three remaining Cubans convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.
To consummate the swap, the editorial notes, President Obama would need to commute the Cuban’s sentences.
"Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship," the article adds.
The New York Times also points to inconsistencies in the legal process against the five Cubans arrested in the U.S. on September 12, 1998, sentenced to long and unjust prison sentences, who are internationally known as The Five, two of whom have returned to Cuba after having served their sentences in full.
The article recalled that a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned the convictions in August 2005, ruling that a “perfect storm” of factors had deprived the five defendants of a fair trial.
According to the editorial, the judges established that, given the widespread hostility toward the Cuban government in Miami and media coverage that vilified the accused, the jury could not have been impartial.
The paper also mentions that one of the judges, Phyllis Kravitch, argued that the accusation of conspiracy to commit murder against Gerardo Hernández was unfounded, after prosecutors linked him to the downing of two pirate aircrafts from Miami shot down after violating Cuban airspace in 1996. According to this judge, prosecutors failed to establish that Hernández had provided Havana with information about the flights.
The piece also highlights that independent entities, including a United Nations panel that examines cases of arbitrary detentions, as well as other non-governmental organizations, have criticized the legal proceedings against the five Cubans.
The editorial stresses that, if a solution to the Alan Gross case is not reached, the possibility of establishing a healthier relationship with Cuba will disappear for years.
"This is an entirely avoidable scenario, as Mr. Obama can easily grasp, but time is of the essence," it concludes. (PL)