Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Castro to free more prisoners, but not Alan Gross

    Posted on Friday, 12.23.11

    Castro to free more prisoners, but not Alan Gross

    Raul Castro said 2,900 prisoners would be 'pardoned,' but they do not
    include the U.S. contractor Alan Gross.
    By Juan Carlos Chavez and Juan O. Tamayo

    Cuban ruler Raúl Castro announced a pardon for about 2,900 prisoners on
    Friday, but he sharply disappointed many Cubans who had hoped for
    another Christmas gift — the freedom to travel abroad.

    Castro said the "humanitarian" pardon would include 86 foreigners from
    25 nations. But a senior Cuban government official later said they did
    not include Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana.

    Gross has served two years of a 15-year sentence on a charge of
    endangering the island's national security by delivering sophisticated
    telecommunications equipment to Cuban Jews so they could access the
    Internet more easily.

    A Havana blogger who almost always reflects the government line,
    Yohandry Fontana, tweeted that Castro's comments to the Cuban
    legislature were a "message" to the U.S. government.

    Cuban officials have said Gross would be freed earlier only if
    Washington frees several Cuban spies arrested in Miami in 1996. Four are
    serving long sentences in U.S. prisons, and one completed his jail term
    this year but remains in the United States on parole.

    The Obama administration has made it clear that until the 62-year-old
    Potomac, Md., man is freed, there can be no improvements in key
    U.S.-Cuba issues. Messages sent by El Nuevo Herald to Gross' family
    representatives late Friday were not immediately answered.

    In what was to be the most eagerly-awaited part of his speech Friday,
    Castro did not fulfill predictions by foreign news agencies that he
    would announce the easing of travel restrictions during a one-day
    session of the rubberstamp National Assembly of People's Power.

    Cuba requires its citizens to obtain expensive exit permits that are
    usually difficult to obtain before they can travel abroad; and the
    government seizes the properties of those who move to other countries
    and makes it difficult for Cubans living abroad to visit the island.

    Castro, who first acknowledged the need to reform migratory policy in
    August, told lawmakers that many Cubans want changes to travel policy
    and that his government remains committed to "slowly" introducing
    required changes.

    But he announced no changes at all, saying that the issue was "complex"
    and that Cuba faces "exceptional circumstances" like "the siege created
    by the subversive and meddlesome policies of the U.S. government." Any
    Cuban who sets foot on U.S. territory is allowed to remain and receives

    Cubans agree that hundreds of thousands of them, if not millions, want
    to have the freedom to travel abroad — some to leave permanently, some
    just to work abroad for a time and put away some savings, and some just
    to visit relatives or tourist sites.

    Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has been denied several "exit permits"
    to pick up some of the many foreign prizes she has won, had tweeted that
    her bags were packed in case Castro announced a reform of the migration

    "If a migration reform is announced. I am heading to the airport … Will
    they let me out? We have to test the limits," she wrote. Sanchez added
    that she would return to Cuba "because for me life is not anywhere but
    in a different Cuba."

    In other comments to lawmakers, Castro said corruption was the biggest
    threat to Cuba's communist system, but he gave no details on the
    half-dozen corruption scandals reported this year by foreign press.

    Castro also said the Cuban economy is improving because of the reforms
    that he has enacted, that his government is paying off foreign debts and
    that the island will welcome Pope Benedict XVI's visit.