Saturday, December 24, 2011

Castro to free more prisoners, but not Alan Gross

Posted on Friday, 12.23.11

Castro to free more prisoners, but not Alan Gross

Raul Castro said 2,900 prisoners would be 'pardoned,' but they do not
include the U.S. contractor Alan Gross.
By Juan Carlos Chavez and Juan O. Tamayo

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro announced a pardon for about 2,900 prisoners on
Friday, but he sharply disappointed many Cubans who had hoped for
another Christmas gift — the freedom to travel abroad.

Castro said the "humanitarian" pardon would include 86 foreigners from
25 nations. But a senior Cuban government official later said they did
not include Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana.

Gross has served two years of a 15-year sentence on a charge of
endangering the island's national security by delivering sophisticated
telecommunications equipment to Cuban Jews so they could access the
Internet more easily.

A Havana blogger who almost always reflects the government line,
Yohandry Fontana, tweeted that Castro's comments to the Cuban
legislature were a "message" to the U.S. government.

Cuban officials have said Gross would be freed earlier only if
Washington frees several Cuban spies arrested in Miami in 1996. Four are
serving long sentences in U.S. prisons, and one completed his jail term
this year but remains in the United States on parole.

The Obama administration has made it clear that until the 62-year-old
Potomac, Md., man is freed, there can be no improvements in key
U.S.-Cuba issues. Messages sent by El Nuevo Herald to Gross' family
representatives late Friday were not immediately answered.

In what was to be the most eagerly-awaited part of his speech Friday,
Castro did not fulfill predictions by foreign news agencies that he
would announce the easing of travel restrictions during a one-day
session of the rubberstamp National Assembly of People's Power.

Cuba requires its citizens to obtain expensive exit permits that are
usually difficult to obtain before they can travel abroad; and the
government seizes the properties of those who move to other countries
and makes it difficult for Cubans living abroad to visit the island.

Castro, who first acknowledged the need to reform migratory policy in
August, told lawmakers that many Cubans want changes to travel policy
and that his government remains committed to "slowly" introducing
required changes.

But he announced no changes at all, saying that the issue was "complex"
and that Cuba faces "exceptional circumstances" like "the siege created
by the subversive and meddlesome policies of the U.S. government." Any
Cuban who sets foot on U.S. territory is allowed to remain and receives

Cubans agree that hundreds of thousands of them, if not millions, want
to have the freedom to travel abroad — some to leave permanently, some
just to work abroad for a time and put away some savings, and some just
to visit relatives or tourist sites.

Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has been denied several "exit permits"
to pick up some of the many foreign prizes she has won, had tweeted that
her bags were packed in case Castro announced a reform of the migration

"If a migration reform is announced. I am heading to the airport … Will
they let me out? We have to test the limits," she wrote. Sanchez added
that she would return to Cuba "because for me life is not anywhere but
in a different Cuba."

In other comments to lawmakers, Castro said corruption was the biggest
threat to Cuba's communist system, but he gave no details on the
half-dozen corruption scandals reported this year by foreign press.

Castro also said the Cuban economy is improving because of the reforms
that he has enacted, that his government is paying off foreign debts and
that the island will welcome Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

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