The Cuban and American Prisoners

The New York Times

To the Editor:

Your Nov. 3 editorial “A Prisoner Swap With Cuba” presented a reasonable resolution to a major obstacle in normalizing United States relations with Cuba, but did not mention some key facts.

Despite references to the “convicted Cuban spies” Cuba wants returned after already serving over 16 years in American prisons, the seven-month trial of these admitted Cuban agents did not include evidence that they had obtained any classified information.

Rather, the Cuban version, that their primary mission was to monitor and prevent terrorism planned by exiles in Miami against Cuba, is supported by the evidence, including the book-length study by a Canadian journalist, Stephen Kimber, “What Lies Across the Water.” None of the five men were charged with actual espionage (as they had no classified information), although the Miami jury convicted them of a “conspiracy,” or a plan to commit espionage.

They monitored figures such as Orlando Bosch, who was given safe harbor in the United States for more than 20 years until his death in 2011, despite being “resolute and unwavering in his advocacy of terrorist violence,” according to Joe Whitley, an acting associate attorney general who argued against granting asylum and later became general counsel to the Department of Homeland Security. And today, a career terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, is still being harbored by the United States in Miami.

Milwaukee, Nov. 3, 2014

The writer is chairman of the Cuba subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild.


To the Editor:

Your persuasive argument for exchanging a U.S.A.I.D. subcontractor, Alan Gross, for three Cuban spies who have served over 16 years in United States prisons is missing one crucial component: the historical precedence for such a swap.

Two examples of prisoner exchanges between the United States and Cuba are particularly relevant. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy freed a Cuban convicted of accidentally shooting and killing a 9-year-old girl and released three other Cubans who had been arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage in New York.

In return, Cuba immediately freed more than two dozen American citizens imprisoned in Cuban jails on charges of counterrevolutionary activities, among them a three-member C.I.A. team caught as they were planting listening devices in a building in Havana.

In September 1979, President Jimmy Carter accepted a Justice Department recommendation for clemency and released three Puerto Rican nationalists, including Lolita Lebron, who had been convicted of opening fire from the gallery of Congress, wounding five lawmakers. As part of an undeclared “humanitarian exchange” negotiated behind the scenes, 11 days later Fidel Castro released four C.I.A. agents.

At the time, both of these swaps were politically controversial, requiring presidential grit and determination. But, as President Obama should note, they advanced United States national interests and returned imprisoned Americans to their families.

Washington, Nov. 4, 2014

The writers are co-authors of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

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