By Max S. Cruz
Alan Gross’ fasting folly
Two weeks ago, Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor arrested in Cuba in 2009 for activities aimed at overthrowing the Cuban government, desperately announced that he was beginning a fast in an attempt to get the attention of US President Obama, who has basically abandoned Mr. Gross:
“I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal.”
All major news sources rushed to tell the world that a man had gone on hunger strike.
“Fast” and “hunger strike” are not interchangeable terms.
A fast implies a stopping point and allows for some nourishment of your choosing. One can go on a juice fast, for example, usually for a week or two. A hunger strike is more narrowly defined: no nourishment until death or a resolution to the conflict. While both can be effective tools of protest and both can cause severe health problems, they are still quite different in terms of desperation, conviction, commitment, sanity, and most importantly–outcome.
His is not a fate worse than death.
Desperation: Alan Gross ended his fast after 8 days. Did the Obama administration expect anything different? Probably not. Mr. Gross is not being tortured or even harassed. He is housed in a hospital where his age-related medical conditions are being treated, not in a maximum security prison with murderers and rapists. He receives regular visits from a wide-range of supporters and has constant communication with his family. His wife has repeatedly commented about how well she is treated when in Cuba.
Conviction: Even those who defend Cuba’s sovereignty have buckled to calling Gross a “victim”, when funding proposals written by his own hand make it clear that he was fully aware of the goal of the program. Letters to his home office reveal his anxiety about getting caught, knowing his mission was illegal. No one should have expected Mr. Gross to starve to death defending a lie.
Commitment: Alan was momentarily committed to demanding his freedom (by release or by death). Years ago he was so committed to freeing Cubans from the evils of communism, that he was willing to gamble with his personal freedom. Now he just wants to go home.
Sanity: Incarceration necessarily takes a heavy toll on one’s mental health. It is distressing. That’s kind of the point of it. Although there have been no reports of Mr. Gross suffering any mental disorders, this fast idea may be a warning sign, especially when his announcement of it breaks from reality, by calling his detention “arbitrary” and urging the Cuban government to acknowledge their responsibility in this “shameful ordeal”.
Not only does he deny he was breaking Cuban law and situate the “ordeal” as something external to himself (as if he were on vacation in Switzerland when it all went down), he displaces blame, on the Cuban government for protecting its borders from a hostile invasion (albeit electronic). Psychosis? More likely a simple lack of strategy–a desperate grasp at straws–and a thorough misunderstanding of the principles of deed as propaganda.
Outcome: None, save for a blip on the media charts. Gross would serve himself better to trade desperation for faith, stand on conviction of his anti-communist beliefs, and admit to his commitment to promote freedom American-style. It may not get him home any faster, but it would gain him respect, rather than pity, and would save his sanity.
Just ask the unwavering Cuban 5.
For over a decade they have shown no signs of desperation. They have held steadfast to their conviction against anti-imperialism and their commitment to protect the Cuban people from terrorism, even though they have endured torture, have been surrounded by murderers and rapists, and have been denied visits from wives and daughters for years on end. Instead of fasting, they have taken up painting, poetry, and tutoring fellow inmates.
Yes, they do cast some blame on the U.S. government for their situation, given it was harboring admitted terrorists who had attacked Cuba repeatedly. They also consider their imprisonment arbitrary because, (aside from all the irregularities of their trials) as admitted covert agents, precedence dictates that they should be at best deported, or at worst swapped, back to their homeland. It is an unwritten courtesy most “civilized” countries extend to each other. In other words, the Cubans’ stance is based on fact and precedent, not framing and pleading.
Back to the drawing board
Perhaps it is time for Mr. Gross and his supporters to give up their fictitious narrative. Nobody who matters buys it. Using the same useless tactics as the 50 year-old “end the embargo” campaign (create political space for the president to do the right thing) will get Alan no closer to home. Either speak the truth and make Obama et al. exceedingly uncomfortable…or get serious about deception and force his hand.
The truth route would entail:
- Consistently defining Mr. Gross as a proactive, covert agent in a U.S. government regime-change scheme funded by the Helms-Burton Act;
- Demanding that the U.S. government acknowledge and treat him like a covert agent, which would mean trading him for the 3 remaining Cuban agents;
- Proudly placing Alan among the ranks of soldiers and CIA agents and other patriots who willingly put their lives at risk. He is a prisoner of war in need of rescue.
- Cautiously collaborating with the international campaigns to free the Cuban 5 and with the Cuban prisoners’ wives and families to emphasize the similarities in the cases and the rationality of a swap.
An example of the second route might have gone something like this:
Alan Gross, in cahoots with Cuban government, fakes a hunger-strike…Cubans allow no visitors except his wife (also in cahoots)…Cuban media report on his deteriorating health and force-feeding, Amnesty International goes berzerk, supporters and haters accuse Obama of abandoning a U.S. patriot in the hands of ruthless communists, etc.…Obama cooks up a scheme that allows Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labañino to escape while being transported for some reason. (Antonio will be out on his own soon). Raul has a change of heart and Alan is released, looking not much worse for wear.
Yes, yes, it’s crazy… but U.S. history is full of such capers. Besides, it couldn’t possibly have had any less success than this fast.