“The contractor wasn’t arrested for what he did, but rather for what they could do with him,” wrote Yoani Sanchez. “It was a simple hook and he was aware of this from the beginning.”
“For those of us who know the mechanism of pressure used by the Plaza of the Revolution toward its opponents, the capture of Gross itself was a move aimed at recovering the Interior Ministry’s agents,” she said. (The “Plaza of the Revolution” in Havana is home to the Interior and other government ministries.)
Gross’s “crime,” Sanchez continued, was “carrying in his pocket a passport that immediately converted him into a medium of exchange …”
Sanchez, a free speech activist named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2008, said the outcome of the arrangement was a victory for the communist regime.
“In the game of politics, totalitarian regimes manage to win over democracies because the former control the public opinion inside their countries, determine all legal results to suit their purposes, and can continue to waste their nation’s resources trying to free the moles they sent to their adversary’s camp,” she wrote.
“Democracies, however, end up conceding because they must answer to their own people, they must live with an incisive press that criticizes them for making or not making certain decisions, and because they are forced to do everything possible [to] bring their dead and alive back home.”
According to the administration, the three Cuban spies were freed in exchange for the release of a U.S. “intelligence asset,” a Cuban who had been incarcerated for nearly 20 years, and whose contributions to U.S. national security were praised Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“Alan Gross was not a part of that exchange because he’s not an intelligence agent, but the Cuban government took the decision to release Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds,” a senior administration official speaking on background said during a conference call.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was challenged on the issue during Wednesday’s daily briefing.
“You are not going to stand there and say that Alan Gross’s release had nothing to do with the release, at the same time, of the three convicted Cuban spies?” said ABC News’ Jon Karl.
“What I’m telling you is that Alan Gross’ release on humanitarian grounds is something that this administration insisted upon,” replied Earnest. “And once that agreement was reached, it opened the door for additional negotiations and additional agreements to be reached.”
“So by removing the impediment of Mr. Gross’ unjust detention, we could engage in a conversation with the Cubans about the spy swap,” he added.
“Alan Gross was released, three spies are released,” said Karl. “I understand you also have a Cuban who was working with U.S. intelligence was released as the same time, as part of the same package, but you can’t say that the Alan Gross release is unrelated to the release of these three Cuban spies?”
“Yes I can—”
“—and the reason for that is very simple, Jon. The reason for that is very simple: The agreement on the spy swap would not have been reached, and was not reached, without the stand-alone agreement to release Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds.”
Among criticism voiced over Wednesday’s announcements was concern that the release of Gross – in what many view as an exchange for three Cuban agents, whose actions have been blamed for the deaths of Americans – could encourage the arrest or abduction of more U.S. citizens abroad.
“Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American and the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.
“It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.”
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) concurred, tweeting, “Administration’s decision to trade convicted Cuban spies for innocent American will only encourage more abductions of Americas overseas.”
“Cuba’s release of American hostage Alan Gross is to be welcome,” said Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez. “Gross has vegetated in a Cuban jail for five years for the crime of bringing computers to Jews on the island. But exchanging three hardened Cuban spies for him establishes a wrong moral and legal equivalency.”
Other criticism leveled by lawmakers included the charge that the policy shift was made without what they considered sufficient congressional engagement; that it does nothing to ease the repression under which the Cuban people suffer – despite Obama’s claim that it will “empower” them – and that it will help the Castro regime financially and politically at a time when it had been ailing.
Obama said he looked forward to “engaging Congress in an honest debate” on lifting the 53-year-old embargo on Cuba, but lawmakers’ reaction to his sweeping changes signal an uphill battle ahead.