Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cuba policy, the Alan Gross precedent and the death of Otto Frederick Warmbier

 Actions have consequences
Alan Gross before and after 5 years in a Cuban prison

American Alan Gross was arrested on December 3, 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. Alan Gross, an American citizen, spent 25 days in a Havana jail before being visited by a U.S. diplomat. Gross's supposed "crime" was providing uncensored internet access to local Jewish communities, but in reality it was to test the resolve of the new Administration that had just entered office. The signal sent was that Mr. Gross was not a priority and the drive to normalize relations was. Alan Gross was finally freed on December 17, 2014 emaciated, missing teeth and exchanged in a swap with Cuban spies, one of which was serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy. Unfortunately other outlaw regimes were also paying attention and taking hostages knowing that it would provide leverage to advance foreign policy goals as it had the Castro regime.

College student Otto Wambier was sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labor in March 2016 for trying to steal a political propaganda poster in North Korea. One year and three months later he was released to the United States in a coma acquired in prison allegedly from botulism and died a day after his return. Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, in a press conference prior to the young man's death lamented that the previous Administration 'could have done more.' Worse yet they told the Warmbier family to keep a "low profile" so as not to "upset the North Koreans." "We've been forced to be quiet and act different because we didn't want to 'offend them."

Cuba and North Korea have close relations. Cuba was caught smuggling tons of weapons including warplanes and missiles on a North Korean ship in 2013 in violation of international sanctions. These type of regimes share information on their bad practices.

Alan Gross got out alive, but Otto Wambier was not so lucky. Otto Warmbier's death in North Korea is the responsibility of Kim Jong-un but bad policy contributed. The legacy of appeasing dictators played a role in ending the life of a 22 year old American college student.

Otto Wambier: December 12, 1994 - June 19, 2017

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