A man with “big ideas.” That’s Alan Gross, a 62-year-old Maryland resident who had the best of intentions when he brought communication devices to the small Jewish community in Cuba. But those good intentions went horribly wrong when he was detained and placed in Villa Marista, the Cuban state prison, in 2009.

When Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), went to Cuba as a tourist, he had no idea that it would end in a 15-year prison sentence. Two years later, he remains in prison, and his lawyers say they’re running out of judicial appeals.

Gross’s crime is nothing more than the purveying of Internet-activating devices to a community of fewer than 1,500 people. To the Cuban government, this is an act of subversion intended to undermine the Castro regime’s stranglehold on the Cuban people.

Today, Internet restrictions in Cuba are so tight that Cubans cannot access the Internet from their own homes, and walking into an Internet café requires stealth. Once on the Internet, the worldwide Web is censored by the Cuban government—blocking things as simple as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. The Castro regime continues to claim that providing Internet to Cuban citizens is a violation of its government’s sovereignty, only confirming claims of the Cuban government’s oppression.

But the days of silence in Cuba may be numbered. While the government attempts to squelch the voice of its people through Internet restrictions and limits on freedom of speech, the people are beginning to protest. Shouts of “Down with Fidel!” and “Down with Raul!” can be heard throughout the streets, causing the Cuban government to panic and the Cuban people to continue expressing opposition.

Gross’ sad situation demonstrates an American problem: the embarrassment of the Obama Administration’s eagerness to make promises of a “new beginning” in U.S.–Cuban relations. Failure to drop charges and free Gross will further emphasize that U.S. relations with Cuba are on tenuous ground.

The Cuban government’s rigid and unjust treatment of Gross reflects a spirit of hostility toward the U.S. that should trouble even the most liberal of Americans.

Olivia Snow is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm