Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Hopes rise for release of American jailed in Cuba

    Posted on Thursday, 09.08.11

    Hopes rise for release of American jailed in Cuba
    Associated Press

    — A surprise visit by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has
    revived hope Cuba may soon free a U.S. government subcontractor whose
    imprisonment has snarled efforts to improve relations between the two

    A lawyer for Alan , who is serving 15 years for illegally bringing
    communications equipment to the island, said Richardson came Wednesday
    at Havana's invitation. The former governor would not confirm that in
    comments to The Associated Press, nor say what he hoped to accomplish on
    the trip.

    Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a long
    history winning the release of prisoners and a close working
    relationship with Cuba's leaders.

    "I don't have any comment," a smiling Richardson said as he sipped a
    drink and smoked a Cuban cigar on the wide terrace of Havana's famous
    Nacional . "Perhaps at the end of my stay."

    The visit, which was kept under wraps until Richardson had landed, was
    the first sign that intensifying calls for the 62-year-old Gross'
    release might bear fruit after months of false hopes and bitter
    disappointment that have overwhelmed efforts at improved relations
    between the two Cold War enemies.

    State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama
    administration was aware of the trip and was in contact with Richardson.

    "While Gov. Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, we certainly
    support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross' release," she said.

    Gross has been jailed since his arrest in December 2009. Cuba says he
    was distributing satellite telephones and other communications equipment
    that are to use without authorization. It has also called the
    USAID-funded democracy program that he was on a thinly veiled attempt at
    overthrowing the government.

    Gross has said that he was only trying to help Cuba's tiny Jewish
    community improve access, and that he had no desire to offend
    the country's communist government. In court testimony from March that
    was released last week by his own lawyer, Gross described himself as a
    "trusting fool."

    "I was duped. I was used. And my family and I have paid dearly for
    this," the Maryland resident told the tribunal.

    The court was apparently unmoved, convicting him of crimes against the
    Cuban state. The decision was later upheld by the nation's Supreme
    Court, leaving the American with no legal recourse.

    That has led to growing appeals for Gross' release on humanitarian
    grounds. Those who have met and spoken with him say Gross has lost 100
    pounds while in custody, and both his elderly mother and adult daughter
    are suffering from cancer, among other hardships the family has endured.

    Richardson was last in Havana in August, when he met with Cuba's foreign
    minister and appealed for Gross's release. A former U.S. ambassador to
    the United Nations, Richardson has experience winning prisoner releases.
    As a congressman in 1996, he secured the liberation of three island
    political prisoners during talks with in Havana.

    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also raised Gross' case at the
    highest levels of government during a trip to Havana in March. The
    former president was received warmly by Fidel and and was
    even allowed to talk with Gross in jail, but he left empty handed.

    Even before Gross was convicted, a senior State Department official said
    in January that she had received assurances from the Cuban government
    that he would soon be freed on humanitarian grounds. But optimism faded
    in recent months, as Cuban prosecutors sought and then won a stiff jail
    sentence against the American.

    Gross' lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said he welcomed Richardson's latest
    visit, which he said was undertaken at the invitation of Cuban
    authorities. He said he hoped it would lead to his client's .

    "We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan's
    release," Kahn said in a statement on behalf of Gross' family. "We are
    grateful to Gov. Richardson for his continued efforts. We hope that the
    governor and Cuban authorities are able to find common ground that will
    allow us to be reunited as a family."

    However, two senior Cuban officials said they were unaware of the trip.

    "I know nothing about it," Parliament Chief , normally a
    leading voice on issues concerning the , told the AP.

    Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's director of North American
    affairs, also said she had no information.

    "I'm not up on that," she said.