Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Richardson to leave Cuba bitter, with no prisoner

    Posted on Tuesday, 09.13.11

    Richardson to leave Cuba bitter, with no
    Associated Press

    — Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that he
    would leave Cuba after exhausting all possible avenues to try to win the
    release of a jailed U.S. government subcontractor, adding that he was
    treated so poorly he doubted he could ever come back to the island as a

    Richardson, who previously vowed to remain in Cuba until he at least got
    to see jailed Maryland native , changed his mind after
    meetings with the Cuban government and other influential groups failed
    to yield any results. He said he would leave Wednesday.

    "I have been here a week and tried through all means – with religious
    institutions, diplomats from other countries, all kinds of efforts – and
    I see that this isn't going to change," Richardson told reporters. "So
    why would I stay?"

    It was a stunning reversal after word last week that the Democratic
    politician had been invited by Cuban authorities and was hoping to
    negotiate ' release.

    Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who had
    enjoyed warm relations with Cuba in the past, said he was disheartened
    and disillusioned by his treatment, and wondered aloud if President Raul
    's government was aiming to deliberately scuttle better ties with

    "I am very disappointed and surprised," Richardson said. "Perhaps the
    Cuban government has decided it does not want to improve relations.
    Perhaps that is the message it is sending."

    Richardson spoke of his longtime affection for Cuba, its people and its
    culture, but said this trip has soured all that.

    "Unfortunately after this negative experience, I don't know if I could
    return here as a friend," he said. "The next step is up to the Cuban
    government, but they have not treated me like a friend."

    Richardson has been hunkered down at the capital's Nacional since
    last Wednesday, waiting for a response to his demand to visit Gross in a
    military where the 62-year-old is being held. But high hopes
    for the trip evaporated quickly after Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
    Rodriguez said he could not even meet with Gross, let alone take him
    home. Richardson's request to see Castro was also denied.

    "The State Department is very disappointed because they did not let me
    see Alan Gross," Richardson said Tuesday.

    Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said President Barack Obama's
    administration had been in touch with Richardson and regretted that his
    requests had been falling on deaf ears. Still, she said the trip wasn't
    a wasted effort.

    "It certainly underscored the plight of Mr. Gross," she told reporters
    in Washington.

    Richardson said Cuban officials did not even want to discuss Gross' case
    with him, or suggest how the standoff could be resolved.

    "There were no demands. It was just an outright rejection of even a
    dialogue on what could be done," he said.

    Richardson said he told the Cubans that if Gross were freed, it could be
    the impetus for renewed dialogue on a host of issues between the Cold
    War enemies.

    Richardson said the response was clear: "'You will not take Alan Gross
    home. You cannot see him,'" officials told him. Cuba's rejection of even
    a visit with Gross appeared to signify a hardening of Havana's stance.
    Former President Jimmy Carter and other previous U.S. visitors had been
    allowed to see Gross.

    It was not clear what went wrong this time around. Richardson has not
    said specifically what he was told by the Cubans that led him to believe
    they welcomed his visit, or who in the government had delivered the
    message. Word of the trip leaked to U.S. news media outlets in
    Washington just as Richardson arrived, perhaps leading to a perception
    in Havana that the American was seeking to pressure them into a decision.

    "The Gross family is heartbroken to learn that Governor Richardson's
    efforts to reunite the family have been rebuffed by the Cuban
    government," Gross U.S. lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said in a statement.
    "They are greatly troubled by the fact that the Governor was invited to
    Havana to discuss Alan's case, only to be turned away and not even
    allowed to visit Alan. The family fears that the Governor's inability to
    see Alan may be related to Alan's deteriorating , as in the past
    others have been permitted to see Alan when visiting Cuba."

    The statement thanked Richardson for his efforts and said the family
    nevertheless holds out hope that Gross could be freed soon on
    humanitarian grounds.

    The Cuban government had no reaction to Richardson's decision to abandon
    his visit.

    Efforts have grown in recent months to seek Gross' release on
    humanitarian grounds. Those who have visited him say he has lost 100
    pounds (45 kilograms) in jail, and his 27-year-old daughter and elderly
    mother both are battling cancer back in the .

    Gross was sentenced to 15 years in jail for crimes against the state
    after he was caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the
    island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program. Cuba says the
    programs aim to bring down the government; Gross contends he was only
    trying to help the island's tiny Jewish community get access.

    The case has crippled attempts to improve relations between Washington
    and Havana, and the treatment of Richardson by Cuban officials is sure
    to be a fresh blow.

    The drama surrounding Richardson will have a lasting effect on
    perceptions in Washington, said Joe Garcia, a Miami-based former Obama
    administration appointee who has long known Richardson and frequently
    worked on Cuba-related issues.

    "For elements in the Cuban regime to try to embarrass one of the senior
    American leaders in foreign policy either leads one to think no one is
    in control, or those that are in control are trying to work against
    finding any positive solutions," Garcia said.

    "Bill Richardson is one of the most experienced public figures in
    American foreign policy. … This isn't some guy who just swam ashore
    and said, 'I'm here to get Gross.'"

    The countries can't even seem to connect on relatively mundane issues,
    like twice-yearly talks on migration and less-regular discussions they
    are meant to have on mail service. The last time they met on either
    issue was in January, and a new round that had been expected in July
    never happened. No new dates for either talks have been announced.

    Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Laura Wides-Munoz
    in Miami and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.