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U.S. rice trade with Cuba entangled with jailed American

  • Trade relations between the United States and Cuba have chilled considerably since Cuba put American Alan Gross in jail.

Exporting U.S. rice to Cuba just can’t seem to get going. After importing U.S. rice in record numbers a few years back, Cuba’s imports of U.S. rice have now slowed to a trickle. Relations between the two countries have chilled considerably.

Unfortunately, this is not likely to change until something is done about an American named Alan Gross, who has been sitting in a Cuban jail for three years.

In November 2009, Gross was an American international development expert working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Gross was hired to implement a risky plan in Cuba, setting up broadband technology for small numbers of Jewish citizens in Havana. The technology provided the Cubans with unfiltered access to the Internet.

Cuba’s security forces considered this a serious crime and on Dec. 3, 2009 arrested Gross at Havana’s Jose Marti Airport as he was attempting to leave Cuba. He was ultimately convicted for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”

The 63-year old is now beginning the fourth year of a 15-year prison sentence, and apparently, Cuba has no intention of letting him go. In fact, they’ve recently used Gross as a bargaining chip for five Cuban spies convicted in Miami of various crimes including conspiring to shoot down two civilian airplanes in 1996, which killed four south Florida men.

In rejecting the offer, U.S. officials noted that there is “no parallel” between Gross and the jailed Cubans. I agree. In most countries, giving people access to information is not only a right, but perfectly legal, and murder is a crime.

The Obama Administration has stated that further talks on improving Cuba and U.S. relations, including trade matters, will not resume until Gross is returned.

While a trade embargo might seem like a good way to bully outlaw states like Cuba into changing their ways, it’s far from a precision shot because it also punishes Cuban citizens who are in desperate need of goods and services, as well as U.S. producers who need their consumerism.

And I’m sure the Obama Administration is not ignoring the fact that free trade can give birth to democratic principles too.

When trade creates capital, economies prosper. When economies prosper, people have the power to change their lives. When people have that kind of power, they can topple despots. Despots, on the other hand, don’t necessarily mind if their people remain ignorant and oppressed.

So do we push trade at all costs hoping that it will open the world for democracy? Or withhold it for a similar change? It’s an interesting and agonizing dilemma.

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