Senators fail to free prisoner from Cuba
By Patrick Oppmann CNN
POSTED: 08:17 PM CST Nov 11, 2014
HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -
When U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake and Tom Udall fly back from Cuba to the
United States on Wednesday, they will carry the regret of not being able
to take with them Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a
15-year prison sentence on the island.
“Alan wants to come home,” Flake, an Arizona Republican, said at a news
conference after a two-hour meeting with the imprisoned American on Tuesday.
The two senators, who are critics of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba,
said they had come to Cuba to again push for Gross’ release. They said
his imprisonment is an impediment to improved U.S.-Cuba relations.
“Other people have tried to come and meet with him and not been able
to,” said Udall, a New Mexico Democrat. “That’s an optimistic thing.”
Last week, CNN was the first to report that Gross was refusing to meet
with U.S. diplomats in Havana, in protest over the slow progress to free
Gross’ attorney Scott Gilbert said his client told him he would be happy
to see U.S. officials “at the airport, when he leaves Cuba, assuming
Flake and Udall said they also met Tuesday with Cuban Foreign Minister
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
The Cuban government has called for a prisoner swap: Gross for three
imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy federal prison
sentences in the United States.
But the U.S. State Department has nixed the idea of a swap, saying Gross
was an aid worker merely trying to help Cuba’s small Jewish community
get online despite Cuban government restrictions on Internet access.
Frustrated by the diplomatic impasse, Gross has threatened to kill
himself if he isn’t freed soon.
“I do feel we are closer,” Flake said. “One, because of what Alan Gross
has said himself. This is going to end one way or another. We have gone
on five years and any benefit the Cuban government may have seen has to
Gross was arrested in 2009 for smuggling in banned communications
equipment to Cuba.
He was convicted of violating the island’s sovereignty and sentenced to
15 years in prison. Cuban authorities say he was part of a larger
program by the U.S. Agency for International Development to undermine
the island’s single-party communist form of government.
In 2014, USAID had to defend programs to create a text messaging “Cuban
Twitter” program to stir dissent and another program to recruit future
leaders on the island.
On Monday, The Associated Press reported that the agency would soon
cease all covert programs in Cuba.
“There’s been a statement that there wont be covert programs run out of
AID anymore and that’s a good thing,” Flake said. “Its not just a source
of tension between the countries, it puts Americans in danger and really
cheapens AID’s mission around the world.”
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