Monday, October 10, 2011

AP Interview: Cuba won't unilaterally free Allan Gross

Associated Press

By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ , 10.10.11, 08:21 AM EDT

MEXICO CITY -- The United States should not expect Cuba to make a unilateral humanitarian gesture to release an imprisoned American government contractor, a senior Cuban official said Sunday.

Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon told The Associated Press in an interview that to expect such a gesture on behalf of Alan Gross "would not be reasonable."

Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison in March for crimes against the Cuban state. He was arrested in December 2009 after getting caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program.

Cuba's Supreme Court upheld Gross' sentence in August, and U.S. efforts turned to winning his release on humanitarian grounds. Both his elderly mother and adult daughter are battling cancer and his family has suffered financial hardship since his arrest, says his wife, Judy Gross.

During a visit to Mexico, Alarcon said the U.S. government "should get a good armchair and sit down to wait" if it is hoping for a humanitarian release.

"To expect a unilateral gesture wouldn't be reasonable," Alarcon said.

He also had harsh words for former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who visited Cuba in early September to negotiate Gross' release. Cuban officials rebuffed his efforts, and Richardson went home without seeing Gross.

Alarcon said Richardson went to Cuba on a private trip and not as part of a U.S. mission. Richardson's trip "was like doing amateur diplomacy, and that doesn't exist, that's Bill's invention," Alarcon said.

Richardson has said he was invited to the island by Cuban officials to negotiate Gross' release.

Alarcon said Richardson suggested the U.S. and Cuba conduct a swap between Gross and Rene Gonzalez, one of five Cuban nationals convicted in 2001 as part of the "Wasp Network" that sought to spy on U.S. military installations in South Florida. Gonzalez has dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship.

Gonzalez was released Friday after 13 years in prison but a judge has ordered him to serve three years probation in the U.S. before returning to Cuba.

Cuban officials say the five attempted to prevent terrorist attacks on the island by monitoring Cuban exiles and tried to place operatives inside the campaigns of anti-Castro politicians. They were convicted of espionage and of trying to infiltrate U.S. military bases.

"Richardson has entangled everything because I can't believe someone would seriously think that there could be a negotiation between Rene Gonzalez ... a man who was about to complete his sentence ... and a man who is just about to start serving his," Alarcon said.

He said Gonzalez's life is at risk if he remains in South Florida, especially after U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said Gonzalez "has American blood on his hands."

"Not only is his life at risk ... but someone could be interested in provoking an incident with him to have the judge send him back to prison," Alarcon said.

Alarcon said sending Gonzalez back to Cuba would be in the best interests of both the United States and Cuba, and he also urged the Obama administration free the four other members of the ring still in prison.

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