Here’s how the game is played:
1) You play to win (and by “win” I mean to keep yourself relevant).
2) Team 1 (the Cuban hardliners) arrest Alan Gross, sentence him for 15 years on a bogus charge, and refuse to negotiate his release. Team 1 doesn’t really think Gross deserves 15 years, but this help them advance three objectives: (1) throw cold water on any effort to substantively change US-Cuba policy (i.e. lifting the embargo) to buy time while they figure out how to reform the Cuban economy without losing control; (2) hope that holding Gross -a USAID subcontractor- will cause the United States to cut funding of USAID programs designed to topple the Cuban government, and (3) hold on to their last shred of legitimacy by branding the United States as aggressors who refuse to release five ”patriots” incarcerated for protecting Cuba against USAID funded activity.
3) Team 2 (Cuban-American Hardliners) respond by calling for greater sanctions toward the island. If they really cared for was the health and release of Alan Gross, they would pressure the US Government to negotiate his release. But the truth is Team 2 sees Alan Gross the same way as Team 1: as a means to achieve a political end. Team 2 exploits his incarceration to secure funding for their USAID pet projects and pressure the administration to eliminate “people-to-people” programs, which they claim only benefit the regime, while purposefully ignoring all evidence suggesting these programs actually facilitate greater contact between Americans and the Cuban people, and expose the former to the sad reality of life under Castro. “People-to-people” programs have nothing to do with Alan Gross and their suspension won’t result in his freedom.
4) Who wins? No one wins, except for Teams 1 and 2, who get to keep their paychecks and justify their existence to the benefit of absolutely no one else in the world.
If Teams 1 and 2 were actually interested in the future of the Cuban people, they would drop the child’s play and try a more confident and grown-up game. Here’s how they can start:
1) Approach the 53-year-old stalemate between the United States and Cuba as a problem to solve, instead of a conflict to win. With this attitude in mind, the order of plays 2 and 3 becomes irrelevant.
2) Team 1: release Alan Gross, pass immigration reform, and send a clear signal that they are willing to open their moribund economy to greater foreign investment.
3) Team 2: call for an end to all Cuban USAID programs and fund the internal opposition directly through private donations. This helps maintain pro-democracy efforts in the island without branding their advocates as “mercenaries” of the US government. Also, Team 2 should support all efforts to increase the free flow of information, contacts and resources between Americans and the Cuban people, starting with further relaxing travel to the island and trade with Cuban entrepreneurs.
4) Who wins? Everyone wins, but Teams 1 and 2 lose control to the will of the people, which is why they both prefer to play the first game.
Meanwhile, Alan Gross continues to deteriorate in jail. We pray for his health and hope that someday soon his life will lie in the hands of adults.