In December 2009, American subcontractor Alan Gross was imprisoned in Cuba and sentenced to 15 years for acts against the independence and territory of the state. While both the Obama administration and Cuban officials are keen on normalizing relations between the countries, Gross’s imprisonment is understandably impeding diplomacy. The only mutually acceptable remedy to the situation would be swapping him for three Cuban spies that have been held in federal prison for more than 16 years.
The prisoners, nicknamed the Cuban 5, were arrested in 1998 on charges of espionage during a time when Cuban-American relations were tense. The alleged spies were convicted on 26 counts of espionage and sent to federal prison. Both the United Nations and Amnesty International issued opinions contending that their trials were unfair. Despite multiple court overturns, the Cuban 5 have yet to be released.
As the Cuban government continues to fight for their release, many believe that Gross is being used as a bargaining chip. Although negotiation is not in the nature of the U.S. government, in this particular case the benefits outweigh the cost. Gross’s health is quickly deteriorating and his wife believes he will not survive to see the new year. As a government employee and U.S. citizen, Gross’s safe return should be a top priority.
As midterms approach, President Obama is hesitant to make any controversial decisions, and the political fallout from a deal with Havana would certainly be significant. But given the circumstances the risk is necessary. With increased international pressure for the release of the Cuban 5, it is likely this would happen in the near future regardless. It would be prudent of the administration to rush this process in exchange for the safe return of Alan Gross. The only way to ensure his return and restore Cuban-American relations is through a prisoner swap.