Tuesday, June 3, 2014

U.S. Not Swapping for Alan Gross Anytime Soon

The recent swap of five Guantanamo detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, has clear parallels to the case of imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross, whom the Cuban government wants to exchange for the three remaining members of the Cuban Five in United States custody. The Obama administration, however, continues to insist on his unconditional release.

Saturday's prisoner exchange for Bergdahl caught the attention of Fernando Gonzalez, one of the original Cuban Five who returned to Havana in February after 15 years behind bars in the U.S. The AP reports that in a press conference yesterday, Gonzalez claimed the swap set a precedent for trading Gross. “It is obvious that the only thing needed is the will on the part of the U.S. government to bring about that swap or exchange,” he said.

Gonzalez was not the only one to make this comparison. In the State Department's daily press briefing yesterday, spokeswoman Jen Psaki was grilled by one reporter on the similarities between the Bergdahl swap and Cuba's proposal for trading Gross. Despite the overlap, her response confirms that a trade isn't on the administration's horizon. From the transcript
QUESTION: Right. But this seems to be – especially in the Alan Gross case, the Cubans have made it perfectly clear – not just privately, but I mean, they’re screaming it from the rooftops – that if there can be a resolution to the three remaining of the Cuban Five, that then Alan Gross will be freed. 
MS. PSAKI: I – again, every circumstance is different, Matt, and I’m not going to speak to every circumstance from the podium. But this is a case where he was a member – is a member of the military. He was detained during an armed combat – armed combat. These were a unique set of circumstances. 
QUESTION: So working for another agency of the government makes a difference? You’re not prepared to trade people for someone who was not serving in uniform?[...]But in the Alan Gross case, the Cubans have made it very clear that if these prisoners are released who have served 15 years in prison already – if these guys are – these three guys, remaining three are released, that they will – that they’ll basically release Gross, who you have similar concerns about his health and safety, as you did with Sergeant Bergdahl. And you wouldn’t actually be breaking the law, or going around the law, in releasing these guys who have served – in releasing these three guys, the Cubans. I just don’t understand -- 
MS. PSAKI: We look at each case differently, Matt.

News Briefs
  • The Brazil chapter of freedom of expression and information advocacy group Article 19 has released a new report on police abuses in the country. The study cites specific examples of disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests and criminalization of free expression during last year’s protests, “tactics reminiscent of those used under the old authoritarian regime.” As O Globo reports, researchers tallied 2,608 arrests and eight deaths linked to 696 protests in 2013. As a remedy, the group calls for the country to reform and modernize its police force to guarantee respect for freedom of assembly.
  • Yesterday, a Caracas court began hearing arguments over whether to proceed with a case against imprisoned Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, who is accused of inciting violence in recent protests in the country. The hearing was adjourned yesterday after ten hours, and is set to resume this morning. El Universal reports that in his statement, Lopez said he was being imprisoned for "denouncing that in Venezuela we live in a dictatorship," and that he preferred “to explain to my children why I am a prisoner instead of explaining why they have no country.
  • In a column for El Espectador, Cesar Rodriguez Garavito of the Bogota-based Dejusticia human rights group takes a look at the potential “beneficiaries” of a Zuluaga presidential win in Colombia. In addition to opponents of the peace talks, conservative sectors and financial elites, Rodriguez argues that the Uribista candidate’s victory would benefit Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his penchant for picking “nationalist fights” with Colombia over ideological issues.
  • The WSJ has an update on Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s new tack on illicit coca cultivation in the coca-rich VRAEM region. The paper notes that the U.S. embassy in Lima has said it is “consulting with the Government of Peru on its revised plans to counter the negative impacts of illicit narcotics activity in the Vraem.”
  • The AP has picked up on the fact that, after Uruguay’s general primaries on Sunday, the two leading presidential candidates ahead of October’s election support legalized marijuana in some fashion. As noted in yesterday’s post, opposition National Party candidate Luis Lacalle Pou actually submitted a cannabis legalization bill in 2010, before the government unveiled its proposal.
  • The BBC’s Emily Buchanan has uncovered evidence that the UK government collaborated with Brazil’s military dictatorship on its crackdown on dissidents,  pointing to internal documents which suggest the British army provided training and advice on interrogation techniques honed during the Northern Ireland conflict.
  • In response to the surge in unaccompanied undocumented child immigrants along the southern Texas border that caused the Department of Homeland Security to set up an emergency shelter there last month, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take control of the situation on Monday. As the New York Times reports, however, the unaccompanied children’s placement in a refugee shelter is only temporary, as the majority will likely be deported under U.S. law.
  • The reality that criminal, frequently violent groups control many of the migration routes across the U.S.-Mexico border is well-established. But there has been comparatively little coverage of similar power structures along Caribbean migration routes. The AP changes that this morning with a report on three groups of Haitian and Cubans who were abandoned on rocky islands off Puerto Rico by migrant smugglers in recent days.
  • Ahead of the 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Asuncion, Paraguay today, EFE reports that OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza criticized recent calls for reforms to the Inter-American human rights system. Insulza dismissed the proposal to relocate the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights from its current office in Washington, noting that the commission forms part of the secretary general’s office, which would thus would have to move along with it.
  • Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou has been ordered to testify by a federal judge over allegations that he abused position as economy minister in 2010 to help a printing company get out of tax obligations. The Wall Street Journal notes that the scandal comes at an inconvenient time for the administration of President Cristina Fernandez, which is struggling to curb inflation.