By: Nora Gámez Torres
The newly formed New Cuba political action committee, which will raise money to promote travel and trade with the island, has found an unexpected spokesman: Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba and wants to return to play "a constructive role" as the two countries resume closer ties.
"Alan would like to return to Cuba to assist in the rebuilding of the relationship between our countries and to play a constructive role and I applaud him for that," said his attorney Scott Gilbert.
"He has a great fondness for the people of Cuba. In fact, when I visited him in jail and talked about these issues, he told me clearly and consistently that he bears no ill will of any kind toward the people of Cuba and he supports more open relationships between our countries,” Gilbert said. “Like other great individuals in history, Alan has transcended his imprisonment, his particular situation, and he has tried to look forward and make the world a little better."
Gross was released from prison along with a Cuban informant who worked for the United States and three Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the U.S. last Dec. 17, as a precursor to the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in five decades.
Gilbert hosted the inaugural event of the New Cuba PAC on Monday night at his residence on Miami Beach. Gross did not make any public comments during his visit to South Florida.
"He's been through a lot in those five years and does not want it to mean nothing. He believes that the best way to grapple with the feeling of loss, and personal and psychological toll, is commit to building a better future for Cubans and advance U.S. policy," said James Williams, co-director of the PAC.
At a meeting on Tuesday with the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, Williams further explained the goals of another newly formed organization called Engage Cuba, a bipartisan group who he also chairs and that will focus on lobbying Congress to remove trade and travel restrictions.
Williams, who until recently served as director of public policy for Trimpa Group, said there was "great enthusiasm" and "tremendous interest" among U.S. companies in exploring the Cuban market.
Cuba Engage advisor Luke Albee, former chief of staff for Democratic senators Patrick Leahy and Mark. R. Warner, added that the interest comes from the CEOs and board members of the companies and, "It’s not just curiosity; There is a cultural, mystical, difficult to define" energy taking place within the hierarchy of American corporations.
Albee was cautious in explaining that Cuba Engage did not want to appear too optimistic and that the group would be dedicated to building support in Congress for current drafts of laws that propose softening trade and travel restrictions and gathering the 60 votes needed to overcome a legislative maneuver to obstruct the passage of such bills.
"We will not force a vote that we cannot win," he said, adding that the Senate has the best chance of passing legislation lifting restrictions.
Albee declined to comment on the opposition by Cuban-American members of Congress to further loosen sanctions toward Cuba, stating that he would have to wait to see if "they really are against." He added that "sometimes the leaders [in Congress] do not count votes very well."
"The travel ban would go first but there are no guarantees," he said.
Williams and Albee explained that the complete list of the names of the groups and individuals involved in Engage Cuba will be revealed in the near future, although they mentioned that Ric Herrero, executive director of the CubaNow group joins the board of the organization. They also have the advice of Steven Law, a former board member of the United States Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the powerful Republican PAC American Crossroads. Additionally,Engage Cuba is collaborating with the Republican lobbyist Kirsten Chadwick, former member of the George W. Bush team and Billy Piper, former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Luis Miranda, former communications director of the White House for Hispanic media, also participated in the creation of the group.
The actions of the New Cuba PAC and Engage Cuba has been closely watched by Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, which advocates maintaining sanctions until the Cuban government takes steps to improve human rights.
"It's not the first time someone makes a PAC to raise money in order to promote travel to Cuba. We have to wait and see, " said Calzon, who noted that the PAC and the lobbying group has the same director.
Still, Calzon said he was surprised Gross is taking part in this political effort.
"I think it would be much better and would make more sense if Gross, instead of devoting his time to advocating for more trips to Cuba — when we know that the Cuban government will retain most of the dividends — he should call for the world not to forget that there are other political prisoners in Cuba, who like him, were denied their fundamental rights," he added.
Said Gilbert: "Alan Gross is not lobbying for the Cuban government. Alan Gross believes, as I do, that the embargo is not good for the people of the United States, Cuban-Americans or American companies. He also believes it is not good for the people of Cuba."
"He and I, and most rational people believe that the embargo should end, the Helms-Burton Act should be repealed and that increased trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba will be good for the people of both countries."
As an example of Cuba’s poor human rights record, Calzón pointed out the deteriorated physical condition of Gross when he was released in December. "What happened to all his teeth? Didn’t the Cuban government provide him with health care when he was in prison? Just look at the pictures of the Cuban spies. Did any of them appears toothless? That in itself is a tremendous statement."
According to his lawyer, Gross has been undergoing health checkups since his release. His vision "is good" and he is using "special glasses that help him see better. He is working with a dentist for the reconstruction of his teeth. Those you see now are temporary but he is working on that. He still has problems with his hips, due to the five years that he was basically in one room.
"He has put on some weight, he is eating well and he is just enjoying his freedom,” Gilbert said. “He loves to walk and experience the things that we take for granted. For Alan, these are still very treasured