The Trump administration wants to create an “internet task force” to expand information access in Cuba, but not everyone is for the plan. Alan Gross was arrested and jailed in Cuba in the year 2009 for doing his job; he was a United States government contractor employed by USAID – the United States Agency for International Development.
Gross was held until his trial in March of 2011, when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Released in 2014, he has been a political activist and author ever since. Now, he is speaking out against the Trump administration’s plans for Cuba.
The project that Gross was working on was funded by the Helms-Burton Act (also known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996), which was intended to bring about “a peaceful transition to a representative democracy and market economy in Cuba.” As part of this “democracy-promotion program,” Gross worked with Development Alternatives Inc. and USAID to provide communications equipment to break the Cuban government’s “information blockade.”
Gross was excited to work on the project, and admittedly did not realize how dangerous the project would be. He later learned of the job’s perils firsthand when he was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for being part of a “subversive project of the US government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communication systems out of the control of authorities.”
His release in 2014 coincided with the US-Cuba detente announced by then-president Barack Obama and Raul Castro. “I learned the hard way that it’s illegal to distribute anything in Cuba that’s funded in full or part by the US government,” Gross told Reuters.
When Gross found out that the State Department had announced a similar endeavor to that which he was arrested for, he was in disbelief. “Until the government of Cuba wants the kind of assistance the United States is capable of providing, the United States shouldn’t be doing stuff there,” he said.
The Cuba Internet Task Force was announced last month, with its first meeting occurring tomorrow (February 7th). As stated in the memo, the Cuba Internet Task Force will “examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba.”
Alan Gross isn’t the only one protesting the move. As one might expect, the Cuban government is also protesting the announcement, sending a note of protest Lawrence Gumbiner, acting leader of the U.S. embassy in Havana. A subsequent statement by the Cuban Foreign Ministry stated, “The Foreign Ministry’s note asked the U.S. government to cease its subversive, interventionist and illegal actions against Cuba… and calls upon it to respect Cuban sovereignty.” One Cuban official even took to Twitter to voice her dissent. Foreign Ministry chief for U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal wrote, “Once again, the U.S. Government tries to justify the reinforcement of its unjust, illegal and universally rejected blockade policy versus Cuba with disrespectful language.”
Some analysts have criticized Trump’s tougher stance on Cuba, saying that it has started to push the country further from its seemingly increasing social and economic opening. These analysts say that the move is contrary to the policy’s goal: to spark political change on the socialist island.