I suppose the Latin American term for an apples and oranges comparison is peras y manzanas. [Pears and apples.] Somehow it doesn’t have quite the same ring. In Spain, the expressions are funnier. No hay que confundir el culo con las témporas. [No need to confuse the ass with the temporal bones]. No confundir churras con merinas. [Don't confuse the sheep that produces itchy wool with the sheep that makes merino].
But at the moment, thinking of Rene González and Alan Gross, I prefer the Spanish no mezclar la velocidad con el tocino [don't mix up speed and bacon], because it’s an expression that highlights the absurd, and nothing is more absurd than the comparisons that are being marketed by the mainstream U.S. press on behalf of the State Department about these two men.
Take for example, the recent story by the Miami Herald‘s Jay Weaver. Upon learning of Judge Lenard’s decision to allow Rene González a two week respite from his probation, to visit his dying brother in Cuba, Weaver picked up the phone and performed what passes for journalism these days: punching the button that speed dials Maggie Khuly and asking for her opinion.
Khuly, for those who don’t know, is the brother of one of the men who – of their own free will – followed the blowhard José Basulto in donated Cessnas to test the limits of restricted Cuban airspace one time too many, on February 24, 1996. After ignoring verbal and physical warnings, two of the planes (tellingly, not Basulto’s which had long since slithered away) were shot down, one of which contained Khuly’s brother, and Khuly has been baying for blood ever since. Preferably Fidel Castro’s, but in his absence, and only for the time being, she’s accepted a proxy: five Cubans who had nothing whatsoever to do with the incident, as US Government prosecutors confessed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. So who cares what Maggie Khuly thinks? The opinion of the average woman on the street might be more relevant.
Not only is González, unlike Gross, a free man after serving a ridiculous 13 year sentence while (in contravention of all international human rights accords) the US denied his wife a visa to visit him - it’s important to remember what González was actually convicted for.
He may have been the most hated of the Five – in Miami anyway – cracking the inner sanctum of the fundraising scheme known as Brothers to the Rescue, flying with Basulto, who knows, maybe even at some point with Khuly’s brother, but those are not indictable offenses. The only thing they could ultimately pin on Rene was the failure to register as an agent of a foreign government – the same thing that landed Anna Chapman on the cover of Russian Maxim.
That and being unrepentant. Despite the fact that unrepentance is also not a crime, there are still many ways to punish it, and Judge Lenard did her best to comply. Starting with an absurdly long sentence, and a probation that defies logic. Obama’s attorneys argued recently that González should not be allowed to see his dying brother, because Cuban intelligence might seize the opportunity to give him secret instructions to bring back to Miami when he returns to serve the rest of his probation before he finally leaves the US for good. Well? Deport him now then! Save us all!
But we can’t deport him, because he’s a US citizen by birth if not culture and rules are rules and anyway then we could no longer pretend that he and Gross, the man who solicited a half million dollar USAID contract (via DAI) to go and install the same kind of BGANs in Cuba that were no doubt useful in the humanitarian project known as Libya, are sort of the same. Because they both have close family members with cancer, you know. But the similarity begins and ends there. If you convict a person for failing to register as a foreign agent but you can’t show how his actions actually damaged the country he was operating in AS a foreign agent, then you’ve essentially caught someone on a technicality. Taking away 13+ years of a person’s life for a technicality is unconscionable and irreparable. Unlike González, Gross was convicted on quite a bit more than a technicality.
But that’s the problem with the US and Cuba. It’s always the same problem. Blind to our own defects, we see ourselves as giants. Cuba, like so many others, is seen as a toy country, with toy leaders, a toy language, toy people, toy laws. They can’t be serious! Even after it’s revealed that Gross himself actively solicited and designed the illegal subversive work he would carry out in Cuba, the State Department continues to peddle the line that he was somehow duped, “a trusting fool,” a “humanitarian.”
And so now we’re asked to believe that the two plus years of Gross’s confinement, complete with conjugal visits from his wife, are somehow comparable to 13 years stolen from a man who was prevented from seeing his wife at all…for a technicality? How many conjugal visits has Gerardo Hernández enjoyed since 2000? Fernando González? Zero. Not allowed in the US federal prison system. These men and their wives had not only their present stolen from them, but their future as well. Given their ages it’s increasingly likely that even if they are released through a presidential pardon, it’ll be too late for them to have children. Unconscionable. Irreparable.
Law & Media 101
Now that I’ve explained why it is a real, and offensive, manipulation to compare the cases of González and Gross, I will say this: Judy Gross still holds unique, if unrealized power. She has a forceful and sympathetic media at her disposal; something the Cuban Five and their families have never had. She could, if she understood how to exercise her power, stop the damage still being done to these five men and their families and simultaneously put an end to her personal nightmare. But not until she gets a better attorney, and not as long as she follows Hillary Clinton’s script.
The vigils outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington? Amateur hour. But that seems to have been recognized. Now it’s time to move away from the script that focuses on one man, in this case, González, who is already virtually free, as the only possible trade for Gross, who comparatively speaking has served no time at all. In fact, could everyone please stop insulting our intelligence? Every Cuban I’ve ever met can do basic math. So can the pope.
I can imagine…it must be terrifying, thinking the State Department is your only hope, and if you step away from the script, what then? Well, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. For one thing, there’s the resolution from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, which said that the sentence for all of the Cuban Five – Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Gerardo Hernández, Ramon Labañino and Rene González – is arbitrary and in violation of international law. Not just Rene. All of them.
Ask the State Department why that resolution is immaterial? Insist that they’ve got the math wrong – the correct multiple is five – why not? And when they say you can’t say that, you can’t do that, call Cindy Sheehan, another person who was ignored by a president, to his everlasting regret.
Or keep going on about speed and bacon. Your choice.