Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American's Release

Cuban Minister Leaves a Door Open to American's Release
Published: September 23, 2011

A week after an effort to gain the release of an American jailed in Cuba
ended in recriminations, the Cuban foreign minister said Friday that the
door remained open to free him on humanitarian grounds, but only with a
reciprocal effort from the United States.

In an interview with editors and reporters at The New York Times,
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said his country was still
seeking closer ties with the United States, suggesting that the two
sides start with subjects on which they should be able to find common
ground most easily — fighting drug trafficking, terrorism and threats to
the environment, to name a few.

"It's in the best interest of the U.S. and Cuba to move ahead on the
normalization of bilateral relations," Mr. Rodríguez said.

One of the more contentious issues roiling relations right now is the
dispute over Alan Gross, a State Department contractor serving a 15-year
sentence in Cuba for distributing satellite equipment under an American
program aimed at weakening the Cuban government.

Last week, Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and
American diplomat, questioned whether Cuba really wanted warmer
relations with the United States as he bitterly left Cuba without Mr.
Gross or even a chance to visit him.

But Mr. Rodríguez, without being explicit, suggested that Cuba and the
United States could find mutual humanitarian gestures to end the stalemate.

"I do not see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the
Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of
reciprocity," he said.

Mr. Rodríguez declined to say what he had discussed with Mr. Richardson,
but he said that all topics between the two nations remained open to
discussion, including the return of one or all of the Cuban Five, men
serving prison sentences in the United States on espionage charges.

"I can tell you the agenda submitted to the U.S. government — and I
reiterate here it is still on the table — included the topic of the
Cuban Five, although we understand that as it is an element related to
justice, it is also of a humanitarian character."

He said President Obama could pardon them "as a humanitarian act, which
would be appreciated by their mothers, wives and the entire Cuban people."

Still, Mr. Rodríguez later said he was not linking the Gross case to the
Cuban Five, and he took pains to keep the Gross affair separated from
the five decades of hostility and diplomatic tit-for-tat that has
defined Cuban and United States relations.

"I believe that establishing a link between pending bilateral issues to
a humanitarian solution in the case of Mr. Gross is a mistake," he said,
later adding, "it is not right to merge this with political issues or
add it to the bilateral agenda, which is quite hefty already."

The State Department, too, prefers no link between Mr. Gross and the
Cuban Five. William Ostick, a spokesman, said the case of the Cuban Five
and Mr. Gross "are not comparable."

"We will continue to use every available diplomatic channel to press for
his immediate and unconditional release," he said.

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