US met Cubans over jailed Jewish-American, official says

October 14, 2011

Washington official declines to comment on report that US offered Cuba prisoner exchanger deal to win the release of Alan Gross. (Reuters/Jerusalem Post)

WASHINGTON – US officials met Cuban officials recently to discuss the case of Alan Gross, a Jewish-American aid contractor imprisoned on the communist-ruled island, US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Friday.
But she declined to comment on a US media report which said Washington offered to let a convicted Cuban spy freed last week from a US jail, Rene Gonzalez, return home immediately in exchange for Havana’s release of Gross.
The Associated Press report, citing unnamed US officials, said Cuba rebuffed the American offer to lift parole restrictions requiring Gonzalez to remain in the United States for three years. Havana asked that Washington also pardon at least some of the four other Cuban spies who were jailed along with Gonzalez in 2001, according to the report.
“I can confirm that a meeting between US officials and the Cubans did take place as part of our efforts to get Alan Gross home,” Sherman told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, adding the meeting was “quite recent.”
“I cannot comment on what was said in that meeting,” she said.
Gross was sentenced in Cuba this year to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state. When arrested in 2009, the contractor was working for a US Agency for International Development (USAID) pro-democracy program and was accused by Havana of illegally distributing Internet and satellite communications equipment on the island.
US President Barack Obama’s administration, which has eased restrictions on US travel and remittances to the Caribbean island, has said Gross must be released before any further moves to improve US-Cuba ties can go ahead.
The release a week ago of Gonzalez, a Cuban intelligence agent jailed for spying on Cuban exiles, raised some speculation that he could be exchanged for Gross. Gonzalez had served 13 years of his 15-year sentence in the United States.
“We have always said we would use all diplomatic channels to try to get Alan Gross home. We continue to call on the Cuban government to release Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds, and to allow him to return to his family and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year and a half ago,” Sherman told lawmakers.
Gonzalez, 55, was the first to be freed of the so-called “Cuban Five” espionage agents arrested in 1998.
Gonzalez left the jail in Florida but his original sentence included the condition that he spend three years of supervised release in the United States.
Cuba’s government and Gonzalez’ family and supporters are demanding he be allowed to immediately leave the United States, saying he is at risk from possible reprisals by the Cuban exiles on whom he was convicted of spying.
Representative David Rivera, a Republican from Miami, which has a large Cuban-American population, told Sherman he was angered by the Associated Press report that US officials as well as a former US state governor, Bill Richardson, had discussed with the Cubans a possible swap of Gonzalez for Gross.
It was “outrageous,” Rivera said, “that we would be negotiating with a terrorist regime to release an American hostage.” Cuba is on the official US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
 WASHINGTON – US officials met Cuban officials recently to discuss the case of Alan Gross, a Jewish-American aid contractor imprisoned on the communist-ruled island, US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Friday.
But she declined to comment on a US media report which said Washington offered to let a convicted Cuban spy freed last week from a US jail, Rene Gonzalez, return home immediately in exchange for Havana’s release of Gross.
The Associated Press report, citing unnamed US officials, said Cuba rebuffed the American offer to lift parole restrictions requiring Gonzalez to remain in the United States for three years. Havana asked that Washington also pardon at least some of the four other Cuban spies who were jailed along with Gonzalez in 2001, according to the report.
“I can confirm that a meeting between US officials and the Cubans did take place as part of our efforts to get Alan Gross home,” Sherman told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, adding the meeting was “quite recent.”
“I cannot comment on what was said in that meeting,” she said.
Gross was sentenced in Cuba this year to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state. When arrested in 2009, the contractor was working for a US Agency for International Development (USAID) pro-democracy program and was accused by Havana of illegally distributing Internet and satellite communications equipment on the island.
US President Barack Obama’s administration, which has eased restrictions on US travel and remittances to the Caribbean island, has said Gross must be released before any further moves to improve US-Cuba ties can go ahead.
The release a week ago of Gonzalez, a Cuban intelligence agent jailed for spying on Cuban exiles, raised some speculation that he could be exchanged for Gross. Gonzalez had served 13 years of his 15-year sentence in the United States.
“We have always said we would use all diplomatic channels to try to get Alan Gross home. We continue to call on the Cuban government to release Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds, and to allow him to return to his family and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year and a half ago,” Sherman told lawmakers.
Gonzalez, 55, was the first to be freed of the so-called “Cuban Five” espionage agents arrested in 1998.
Gonzalez left the jail in Florida but his original sentence included the condition that he spend three years of supervised release in the United States.
Cuba’s government and Gonzalez’ family and supporters are demanding he be allowed to immediately leave the United States, saying he is at risk from possible reprisals by the Cuban exiles on whom he was convicted of spying.
Representative David Rivera, a Republican from Miami, which has a large Cuban-American population, told Sherman he was angered by the Associated Press report that US officials as well as a former US state governor, Bill Richardson, had discussed with the Cubans a possible swap of Gonzalez for Gross.
It was “outrageous,” Rivera said, “that we would be negotiating with a terrorist regime to release an American hostage.” Cuba is on the official US list of state sponsors of terrorism.


Cuba gives Jewish-American aid worker 15-years in jail

March 13, 2011

US State Department, Conf. of Presidents and AJC condemn ruling on Alan Gross after Cuba accuses him of engaging in “subversive” activities.

Cuba sentenced Jewish-American aid contractor Alan P. Gross to 15 years in prison on Saturday for engaging in “subversive” activities, a decision which was strongly condemned by Washington.

Gross had been arrested by Cuban authorities last year and charged with secretly delivering satellite phones to the Jewish community on the island and entering the country on the wrong visa.

“We deplore this ruling,” Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman was quoted by media as saying. “Alan Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries. He was in Cuba to help the Cuban people connect with the rest of the world.” The Obama administration also condemned the ruling. “Today’s sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross’s ordeal,” Tommy Vietor, the US National Security Council spokesman said in a statement. “He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more. We urge the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family.” Several Jewish groups including the Conference of Presidents of Major North American Organizations and the American Jewish Committee have petitioned Havana since his arrest calling for his immediate release. “We are disappointed that the prosecution presented Mr. Gross as attempting to destabilize the Cuban government when the project he was working on in Cuba was aimed at helping communication in the local Jewish community. As we mentioned in the appeal we sent to President of Cuba Raul Castro prior to the trial, Mr. Gross has managed multiple humanitarian projects around the world and believed he was advancing his humanitarian work in Cuba, Conference of Presidents Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said last week. Gross, 61, was convicted of “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” for working to set up clandestine Internet networks for Cuba dissidents using “sophisticated” communications technology. Prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence for the longtime development worker, who has been jailed since his arrest in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009. U.S. officials had contended from the beginning that Gross was only setting up Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community. Few details of the trial have been released, but the television report said Gross told the court he had been “used and manipulated” by DAI, the Maryland-based company that had contracted him to work in Cuba. DAI had a contract from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct projects aimed at promoting political change on the Caribbean island. Since Gross was arrested speculation has been rife that he is being used as a bargaining card by Havana in return for several Cuban spies in US custody.

the left’s view of a legal system uses too much discretion.