Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba pol cool to talk of release, swap for US man

    Posted on Friday, 11.11.11

    Cuba pol cool to talk of release, swap for US man
    Associated Press

    HAVANA -- The president of Cuba's parliament said Friday no one should
    expect the island to unilaterally free an imprisoned American aid
    contractor and threw cold water on hopes he could be swapped for five
    Cuban agents held for more than a decade in the U.S.

    Ricardo Alarcon's comments, similar to ones he has expressed in the
    past, maintained Havana's firm line in a case that has been a thorn in
    already prickly relations between the Cold War rivals. He spoke in
    response to comments by a U.S. rabbi who recently visited prisoner Alan
    Gross at a Cuban military hospital and said the Maryland man hoped for
    such an exchange.

    "They are different situations," Alarcon told journalists at a
    convention on fighting corruption.

    "I read the statement from Rabbi (David) Shneyer ... I think it is a
    very measured, respectful statement expressing a legitimate humanitarian
    concern that I understand." But, he said, "I don't think people should
    expect unilateral gestures."

    Gross, 62, has been behind bars for nearly two years since his arrest in
    early December 2009, accused of illegally bringing communications
    equipment into Cuba while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program.
    Cuba's Communist government considers such programs tantamount to
    efforts at regime change.

    In March, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against
    the state. He maintains he was trying to help members of Cuba's tiny
    Jewish community get online.

    His imprisonment has put a damper on any likelihood of improved ties
    between Cuba and the United States, which do not have formal diplomatic
    relations and are divided by five decades of mutual suspicion and distrust.

    Gross' case was raised earlier this week when Roberta S. Jacobson,
    President Barack Obama's nominee to be assistant secretary of state for
    Western Hemisphere affairs, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations

    "We ... continue to seek the unconditional release of American citizen
    Alan Gross, a dedicated development worker who has been unjustly
    imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years," Jacobson told the committee.

    Family members have expressed concern for Gross' health and urged his
    release on humanitarian grounds, but Alarcon's words suggest that is
    unlikely to happen anytime soon.

    Talk of possibly swapping Gross for one or more of the "Cuban Five"
    agents imprisoned in the United States has similarly gone nowhere. One
    of the men, Rene Gonzalez, was paroled last month but ordered to remain
    in the U.S. while he serves three years of probation.

    On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said officials at the U.S.
    Interests Section in Havana continue to have regular consular access to
    Gross and visited him most recently on Nov. 3.

    His wife, Judy Gross, has urged Americans to contact members of Congress
    and write letters to newspapers pressing for her husband's return.

    Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed to this report.