Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale
Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 15, 2014
In the Zamora neighbourhood, next to the Carlos J. Finlay military
hospital, in the Marianao Council area, in Eastern Havana, many of the
neighbours don’t know anything about the background of Allan Gross, the
US contractor, who is stuck there.
It’s a poor district, with little houses, dusty streets and broken
pavements. The midday heat finds it deserted. Not even the street dogs
can bring themselves to walk over the hot asphalt.
People there take shelter from the mid-day sun inside their houses, or,
inside a bare private cafe, put together in a house entrance hall, they
talk about the latest TV serial, José Dariel Abreuthe’s 31st home run
with the Chicago White Sox, or Barcelona’s next sign-ups.
Around here is where you find out about the latest violent crime which
happened the previous night and, if the person you are talking to trusts
you, he’ll take you round to the house where one of the neighbours will
discreetly sell you some trashy industrial bits and pieces and Chinese
People don’t know Alan Gross, who is kept in a cell in the hospital,
just a stone’s throw from the neighbourhood. As far as Ernesto, one of
the neighbourhood kids, is concerned, he has heard the name somewhere.
“He’s the gringo who they locked up for spying in Cuba”, he says, but he
doesn’t know any details of the case. Another kid, who shows off about
being well-informed, tells some of the details:
“I found out on the antenna that the American has staged a hunger strike
and he says that, dead or alive, he’s going to leave this year (the
antenna is an illegal construction — usually made of a metal tray and
some Coke cans — and is used as a communication medium in many poor
Cuban poor neighbourhoods). I don’t know why Obama doesn’t exchange him
for the “three heroes” (Castro spies in jail in the States).
That is what the Cuban man-in-the-street — many of them — know about
Gross, the contractor. A spy who came from the north to subvert things
on the island.
Not many of them know what it was that he tried to bring into the
country. And, when they know that Alan Gross had with him in his
briefcases and backpacks two iPods, eleven Blackberrys, three MacBooks,
six 500GB discs, three BGAN satellite phones, among other things that
Castro’s government considers “illegal,” they look a bit stupid.
“But they sell all this stuff on Revolico (an on-line site condemned by
the government). What was the Yank up to, setting up a spy ring with
commercial toys,” is what Arnold says, smiling (he is the owner of a
little workshop that fixes punctures on your bike or car).
The crime that the olive green State accused him of: “assembling
parallel networks to gain illegal access to the internet,” is only an
offence in countries with eccentric laws like Cuba or North Korea.
The official media, sporadically offer brief comments, edited in a
cleaned-up kind of style, by the hacks at the Foreign Relations
Department, who disinform, rather than inform.
People hear about it in the news on the radio and television and it is
the main news item in the newspaper Granma. And it all backs up the
Cubans’ opinion that Alan Gross was caught carrying out espionage.
Cuba is a nation that scatterbrained foreigners do not know. There are
two currencies and the one which is worth more is not the one they pay
The press assures us that five decades ago they “got rid of prostitution
and other capitalist scourges”, but an elderly foreigner on a beach
receives more sexual proposals than Brad Pitt.
In order to understand the story put together by the Havana government’s
communication experts, we need to have in mind one of its key features:
from 1959, the United States is the public enemy number one.
Everything bad stems from that. Six hundred supposed attempts on Fidel
Castro’s life: from planning to assassinate him by a bullet through the
temple, to injecting him with a strong poison which would make his beard
The eleven Presidents who have occupied the White House during Castro’s
55 years are far from being angels. They have hatched attacks,
subversions, and assaults on the first Castro. But the regime
In that context, Alan Gross was a useful pawn for the island’s special
services. Gross visited Cuba four times with the idea of giving
unrestricted internet access to the small local Jewish community.
On December 3, 2009 the US contractor was sentenced to 15 years in jail
by a Cuban tribunal. Gross was not the “stupid innocent taken in by
USAID,” as they said at his trial.
He was aware of the risk he was running bringing in information
equipment into a totalitarian nation, where parallel communication is a
crime against the state.
According to a 2012 article from the AP agency, the reports about his
trip indicate that Gross knew his activities were illegal, and he was
afraid of the consequences, including possibly being expelled from the
country. One of the documents confirms that one of the community’s
leaders “made it absolutely clear that we are playing with fire.”
On another occasion, Gross commented “There is no doubt that this is a
very dangerous business. It would be catastrophic if they detected the
It would be possible to appeal to Raúl Castro’s government’s better
nature, asking that they set free an unwell 65-year-old man, who is
mentally “out of it,” following the death of his mother the previous
18th of June in Texas.
But the criollo (Cuban) autocracy in playing its own game with the USAID
contractor. There are still three spies from the Wasp network locked up
in US jails, two of them on life sentences.
Alan Gross was the perfect pretext for a negotiation which the Obama
administration finds morally unacceptable, as it would place the elderly
Jew on the same level as the Cuban spies.
Gross is an authentic laboratory guinea pig, stuck between the United
States’ ambiguous politics and Castro’s attempts to get his agents back
home. An exchange which the White House is unwilling to accept.
Photo: Alan Gross (b. New York, 1949), before his detention, and now,
although he is probably thinner and weaker after his last hunger strike
and his depression over his mother’s death last June 18th. Taken from
The Cuban History.
Translated by GH
10 August 2014
Source: Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba –