Saturday, June 21, 2014

Obama, via Uruguay, urges Cuba to release jailed U.S. citizen

Obama, via Uruguay, urges Cuba to release jailed U.S. citizen
WASHINGTON Fri Jun 20, 2014 1:53pm EDT

(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has sent an indirect message to
Cuban President Raúl Castro through Uruguay's leader, asking Cuba to
release a jailed U.S. aid contractor and encouraging political reforms,
U.S. officials said on Friday.

It was a rare presidential-level communication between the United States
and Cuba, which lack diplomatic relations and have been hostile
neighbors for more than 50 years.

Obama and Castro famously shook hands at the funeral for South African
leader Nelson Mandela in December, exchanging pleasantries but without
discussing matters of state.

Uruguayan President José Mujica, a leftist who has actively sought a
role in helping improve U.S.-Cuban relations, visited the White House in

At that time, U.S. officials said, Obama asked Mujica to urge Castro to
release Alan Gross, who has served four and a half years of a 15-year
sentence for attempting to set up an illegal Internet service in Cuba.

The Gross case has impeded any major breakthrough in U.S.-Cuban relations.

"President Obama asked that President Mujica use any opportunity he
might have to convey this same message to President Castro," National
Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Friday.

"With respect to Cuba, President Obama urged President Mujica to use his
considerable credibility as a regional leader to encourage political and
economic reforms in Cuba, noting that such measures would be well
received by the United States and other members of the international
community," Ventrell said.

The Uruguayan weekly Busqueda, which first reported on the communication
on Thursday, said Mujica delivered a message from Obama to Castro last
weekend, when Mujica and Castro attended the Group of 77 summit in Bolivia.

Gross, 65, was arrested in 2009 while trying to establish an online
network for Jews in Havana as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID). Cuba considered the program
subversive, and in 2011, a Cuban court sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Cuba has attempted to link his case to those of three Cuban agents
serving prison terms in the United States for spying on Cuban exile
groups in Florida. The United States has rejected any trade of the Cuban
agents for Gross.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal, writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by
Jason Szep and G Crosse)

Source: Obama, via Uruguay, urges Cuba to release jailed U.S. citizen |
Reuters -

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