Cuba won't budge on jailed American contractor, insists on prisoner swap
By Mary Murray, NBC News
Cuba's government on Wednesday continued to tie the fate of an American
contractor jailed there for four years to the release of four Cuban
spies imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998.
Responding to renewed calls for Havana to free 64-year-old American
contractor Alan Gross, Director General of Cuba's Foreign Ministry,
Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, said in a statement that the government is open
to negotiations for a swap of prisoners.
"The Cuban government reiterates its readiness to immediately establish
a dialogue with the United States government to find a solution to the
case of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis, and which addresses the
humanitarian concerns of Cuba relating to the case of the four Cuban
anti-terrorist fighters in prison in the United States," she said.
Ferreiro was referring to four remaining members of the "Cuban Five"
held in U.S. prisons after being convicted of conspiracy to commit
espionage and other charges in 1998. The prisoners -- Gerardo Hernández,
Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González -- are national
heroes in Cuba, and the governments of Raul Castro and Fidel Castro
before him have made winning their freedom a priority. The fifth member
of the group, René González, was released in October 2011 and
subsequently returned to Cuba.
"(The Cuban prisoners) … serve long and unjust prison sentences for
crimes they did not commit and which were never proved," Ferreiro said
in the statement. "Their imprisonment has a high human cost to them and
their families. They have not seen their children grow, they have lost
mothers, fathers and brothers, face health problems, and have been
separated from their families and their homeland for over 15 years now."
Gross, an Agency for International Development contractor, was arrested
on Dec. 3, 2009, and accused of smuggling sophisticated satellite and
other telecommunications equipment to Cuba's tiny Jewish community.
Gross has said he was only trying to increase internet access in Cuba.
But he was convicted by a Cuban court in March 2011 of crimes "against
the independence and territorial integrity of the state" and sentenced
to 15 years.
Since then, he has lost more than 100 pounds in the Cuban prison where
he is being held, according to his wife, Judy, and supporters.
President Barack Obama's spokesman, the U.S. State Department and 66
U.S. senators used the fourth anniversary of Gross' arrest on Tuesday to
urge Cuba to free him.
"Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional
with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more
than 50 countries," the State Department said in a statement Monday. "We
reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and
even Cuba's allies, to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally."
Gross also marked the anniversary, penning a letter to Obama pleading
for his "personal involvement" to secure his release.
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