Friday, August 27, 2010

In Cuba, Richardson raises case of jailed American

Posted on Thursday, 08.26.10
In Cuba, Richardson raises case of jailed American
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- The governor of New Mexico said Thursday that he and Cuba's
foreign minister discussed the plight of a U.S. government contract
worker jailed in Havana for nearly nine months on suspicions of spying.

Gov. Bill Richardson said he believed they made progress in what he
called a "humanitarian case, not a political case."

Alan P. Gross, a 60-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, was working
for a firm contracted by USAID when he was arrested Dec. 3 and sent to
Cuba's high-security Villa Marista prison. President Raul Castro has
said Gross was distributing illegal satellite phones, but apparently no
formal charges have been filed.

In Cuba on a five-day mission to promote exporting New Mexico green
chilies, nuts and salsa to the island, Richardson said he was asked by
the White House to press for Gross' release. But he stressed he is not
an official negotiator, nor did he come with any back-channel messages
from Washington.

"I was asked by the Obama administration to raise the Alan Gross case at
the highest levels and I've done so. I believe I've made some inroads,"
Richardson said at a news conference.

He wouldn't say what he meant by inroads, but added, "I think the Cuban
government has a better understanding of the personal side of Alan Gross."

Richardson said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and his deputy told him
the "case is at a very sensitive investigatory and legal process at this

The governor, who met with Gross' wife and attorney before coming, said
that "releasing Alan Gross would be a very welcome humanitarian gesture."

The U.S. government says Gross committed no crime and his wife, Judy,
says he brought communications equipment intended for island Jewish
groups, not for political use.

Richardson is making his fourth visit to Cuba and has experience with
winning prisoner releases. As a congressman in 1996, he secured the
liberation of three island political prisoners during talks with Fidel
Castro in Havana.

Richardson heads home Friday. It wasn't clear if he would meet with
Fidel Castro, who has recently been popping up in public after being
seen only in occasional photos during the four years since illness
forced him to give up the presidency.

"I don't expect to meet with Fidel Castro. I've met with him before, on
previous visits, but I'm not a head of state," Richardson said.

If the pair do sit down, however, the governor said he would "of course
raise" the Gross case.

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