Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Richardson rebuffed in effort to free Alan Gross

    Richardson rebuffed in effort to free
    By Mary Beth Sheridan, Published: September 11

    The Cuban government has rebuffed a mission by former New Mexico
    governor Bill Richardson to free a U.S. government contractor jailed in
    , even ruling out a visit with the man, Richardson said Sunday.

    Richardson vowed to remain in Cuba until he was allowed to see jailed
    American Alan P. .

    "We were supposed to leave yesterday. We've extended our stay in the
    . My position is, I'm not planning to leave until I get a chance to
    visit Alan Gross," Richardson said in a telephone interview from Havana.

    Cuba's action appeared to be an extraordinary snub of the prominent,
    Spanish-speaking Democrat and former U.N. ambassador who has had cordial
    relations with the island's government. There was no word from the Cuban
    government on why Richardson couldn't see Gross, who has routinely
    received visits from U.S. diplomats and members of Congress.

    Gross, 62, was in December 2009 while working on a secretive
    democracy program in Cuba for the U.S. Agency for International
    Development. His detention has grown into a major impediment to
    President Obama's goal of improving relations with Cuba.

    Richardson, who has long supported improved relations with Cuba, said he
    was "flabbergasted" by his treatment. He was invited to Havana by the
    Cuban government to discuss the Gross case, he said, leading to hopes of
    a breakthrough. Cuban parliament leader last week
    described Richardson's trip as "noble."

    But Richardson said there appeared to be disagreements within the Cuban
    government on what to do with Gross.

    "My sense is, there are some elements in their government that don't
    want to improve relations with the U.S.," Richardson said.

    While Richardson traveled as a private citizen, his trip was welcomed by
    the State Department, which briefed him before he set out on Sept. 7. In
    a meeting Thursday, Richardson conveyed to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
    Rodriguez the U.S. position that "if you release Alan Gross, there are a
    number of areas of cooperation we can talk about," Richardson said.

    But "their inclination is not to do that," he said.

    The Obama administration has eased some Cuba and financial
    restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush. But further
    cooperation on matters such as immigration, the environment and drug
    trafficking has stalled, officials say. In addition, Cuba is unlikely to
    get its wish to be removed from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring
    countries while Gross is held, American officials say.

    American diplomats had hoped Cuba would deport Gross after he was
    sentenced in March to 15 years in . They say Cuban authorities
    have never explicitly asked for anything in exchange for his release.
    But Cuban authorities have been angered by the Obama administration's
    continuation of the secretive democracy program on the island, which had
    grown significantly under Bush, analysts say.

    The Obama administration defends the program as part of a global effort
    to support basic freedoms. The 2011 budget provides $20 million for the
    Cuba effort, up from $15 million the previous year.

    Cuba considers the democracy-promotion activities , since they
    fall under the Helms-Burton law, which calls for regime change on the

    Gross was providing satellite phone and computer equipment to the
    island's Jewish community, under a $6 million contract won by his
    employer, Development Alternatives Inc. of Bethesda.

    Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, has spent his career traveling to
    hot spots such as Iraq, North Korea and Sudan to negotiate the release
    of jailed Americans.