Tuesday, December 4, 2012

U.S.: Trading Alan Gross for Cuban spies is unlikely

Posted on Tuesday, 12.04.12

U.S.: Trading Alan Gross for Cuban spies is unlikely
The two cases are not the same, official says'
By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuba's offer to swap U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross for five
Cuban spies convicted in Miami is not at all acceptable to Washington, a
senior State Department official affirmed Monday on the third
anniversary of Gross' arrest.

"We reject the notion of linkage," said the official, who met with
several journalists in Miami but asked for anonymity under State
Department procedures. "There is no parallel between the two cases."

Gross' continued detention in Havana has become a powerful roadblock in
efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, with the Obama administration
holding off talks on migration, drug and people smuggling and other
issues until he returns home.

The official noted that while the administration will continue its
policy of helping the Cuban people — it lifted most restrictions on
Cuban-American travel and remittances — it is "very hard to see us
making progress in bilateral relations while he is in jail."

U.S. officials have previously denied the possibility of a deal for
Gross and the spies. But the third anniversary of the U.S. man's arrest
sparked a new round of speculation — some of it fueled by Cuban
authorities — about a swap.

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009 after
he delivered three satellite telephones to Cuban Jews so they could
access the Internet and contact people abroad without using the
government's tightly monitored telephone monopoly.

The phones were financed by the U.S. government under pro-democracy
programs that Havana outlawed as an attempt to topple the communist
system. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for acts against
Cuba's "independence or territorial integrity."

The five Cuban spies were convicted in Miami in 1998 as part of the
so-called Wasp Network. Cuba calls them heroes, saying they were
assigned to South Florida to monitor and avert any possible exile
terrorist plots against the island.

Four remain in prison, with one serving two life sentences on
murder-conspiracy charges for helping Cuban warplanes shoot down two
civilian airplanes in 1996, killing all four South Florida men aboard.
The fifth spy completed his 13-year prison term last year and is now
serving a three-year parole somewhere in the United States.

The State Department official said that while what Gross was doing in
Cuba was "perfectly legal anywhere else in the world," the five spies
were convicted of clearly illegal activities.

The anniversary of Gross' arrest also brought a flurry of calls for his
release, including one issued by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Ben
Cardin, D-Md.

"As the unjust imprisonment ... nears its three year mark, we were
hopeful that the Cuban government would soon announce its intention to
grant Mr. Gross' release," the senators noted. "Though we are deeply
disappointed by Cuba's failure to make such an indication today, our
commitment to Alan's cause is undiminished and we will continue to work
to ensure his immediate and unconditional release."

In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesperson Mark Toner noted
that Gross has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest and suffers
from arthritis, and that his family wants him examined by a doctor of
his own choosing.

"We continue to ask the Cuban government to grant Alan Gross's request
to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn
Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue," Toner added.

The head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, meanwhile, wrote
to those who have expressed concerns about Gross' health, saying he does
not have cancer and suffers only "from chronic illnesses that are
typical of his age, which are receiving adequate treatment."

"Mr. Gross maintains a systematic physical exercise regime on a
voluntary basis and eats a balanced diet that includes foods of his
choice, which has allowed him to get rid of his former obese condition,"
wrote José Ramón Cabañas.

"The Cuban government is sensitive to the humanitarian concerns" in the
Gross case, he added, "and has expressed to [Washington] its willingness
to find a reciprocal humanitarian solution that would also take into
account highly sensitive humanitarian concerns of utmost importance for
Cuba and its people" – the five spies.

Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba specialist at the National Security Archives, an
independent research center in Washington, reported that he met with
Gross in Havana last week and found him "extremely thin" and dispirited.

"He's angry, he's frustrated, he's dejected — and he wants his own
government to step up" and negotiate, Kornbluh told NBC News. "His
message is that the United States and Cuba have to sit down and have a
dialogue without preconditions. … He told me that the first meeting
should result in a non-belligerency pact being signed between the United
States and Cuba."


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