Senators who favor more trade with Cuba plan halt advocacy to push for Alan Gross release
Senators who favor more trade with Cuba plan halt advocacy to push for
Alan Gross release
The senators from Kansas and Illinois say they want to put pressure on
Cuba to free U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross.
By Juan O. Tamayo
Two U.S. senators who have long pushed to ease restrictions on trade
with Cuba say they have put their advocacy on hold in hopes of
pressuring Havana to free jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan P.
The decisions by Sens. Jerry Moran R-Kansas, and Dick Durbin D-Il.,
underlined how the case of Gross, serving a 15-year prison sentence, has
become a persistent roadblock in almost any attempt to warm up U.S.-Cuba
"I have tried to change the trading relationship with Cuba. I am taking
a hiatus from that effort," Moran told the congressional newspaper The
Hill. "I hope that this will put pressure on Cuba to release him."
Durbin, who as the Senate majority whip is the second-highest ranking
Democrat in the chamber, declared that his meeting with Gross in his
Havana cell this spring convinced him that more needs to be done to free
him, according to The Hill report Sunday
Durbin has been an advocate of using trade to open up closed societies
like Cuba, and along with Moran has submitted several legislative
proposals over the years to ease the U.S. trade embargo on the island.
Calls to Moran and Durbin's Washington spokespersons on Monday seeking
additional comment for this story were not returned.
Gross, 63, a development specialist working for a U.S. government
pro-democracy program, is serving a 15-year sentence for acting against
Cuba's sovereignty when he delivered three illegal satellite phones to
Cuban Jews that allowed them independent access to the Internet,
bypassing government controls. Cuba has outlawed cooperation with the
programs, arguing they are designed to topple the government.
The Obama administration has demanded his release as a humanitarian
gesture, arguing that he is in ill health, that his mother has
inoperable cancer and that one of his daughters is undergoing treatment
for breast cancer.
Havana has made it clear Gross will be freed only in exchange for the
five Cuban intelligence officials convicted in Miami in 1998. Four are
serving long sentences and the fifth completed his prison term but is on
parole somewhere in the United States.
The White House has repeatedly said that it will not swap Gross for the
Cuban spies, and that it can make no major effort to improve bilateral
relations until the Maryland man is released.
Moran and Durbin, both from farm states, have been trying for years to
ease U.S. trade sanctions on Cuba in order to make it easier for the
island to buy U.S. food and other agricultural goods — which totaled
$347 million in 2011.
Moran has proposed allowing Cuba to make payments directly to U.S.
financial institutions, which now must go through third countries. He
also wants Cuba, now required to pay for the goods before they leave the
United States, to be able to pay once they reach the island.
The proposals have been rejected in Congress, with Cuban-American
members and other opponents arguing that easing the U.S. trade
restrictions would help the half-century old communist government.
Gross' case has been making headlines in recent days because of reports
that his health is deteriorating. He has lost more than 100 pounds since
his arrest in late 2009, and has been serving his sentence in a military
hospital in Havana.
His U.S. lawyer, Peter J. Kahn complained last week that Cuba had not
given his family the results of his latest medical tests. The U.S. State
Department said Thursday it was "extremely concerned" by reports that
Gross could no longer walk around his cell.
Cuba's Foreign Ministry reported Friday that Gross' health was "normal''
although he suffered from "chronic conditions typical of someone his
age.'' And over the weekend it sent the medical test results to his family.