Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    U.S.: Trading Alan Gross for Cuban spies is unlikely

    Posted on Tuesday, 12.04.12

    U.S.: Trading Alan for Cuban spies is unlikely

    The two cases are not the same, official says'

    By Juan O. Tamayo

    jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

    Cuba's offer to swap U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross for five

    Cuban spies convicted in Miami is not at all acceptable to Washington, a

    senior State Department official affirmed Monday on the third

    anniversary of Gross' arrest.

    "We reject the notion of linkage," said the official, who met with

    several journalists in Miami but asked for anonymity under State

    Department procedures. "There is no parallel between the two cases."

    Gross' continued detention in Havana has become a powerful roadblock in

    efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, with the Obama administration

    holding off talks on migration, drug and people smuggling and other

    issues until he returns home.

    The official noted that while the administration will continue its

    policy of helping the Cuban people — it lifted most restrictions on

    Cuban-American and remittances — it is "very hard to see us

    making progress in bilateral relations while he is in jail."

    U.S. officials have previously denied the possibility of a deal for

    Gross and the spies. But the third anniversary of the U.S. man's arrest

    sparked a new round of speculation — some of it fueled by Cuban

    authorities — about a swap.

    Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009 after

    he delivered three satellite telephones to Cuban Jews so they could

    access the and contact people abroad without using the

    government's tightly monitored telephone monopoly.

    The phones were financed by the U.S. government under pro-democracy

    programs that Havana outlawed as an attempt to topple the communist

    system. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in for acts against

    Cuba's "independence or territorial integrity."

    The five Cuban spies were convicted in Miami in 1998 as part of the

    so-called Wasp Network. Cuba calls them heroes, saying they were

    assigned to South Florida to monitor and avert any possible exile

    terrorist plots against the island.

    Four remain in prison, with one serving two life sentences on

    murder-conspiracy charges for helping Cuban warplanes shoot down two

    civilian airplanes in 1996, killing all four South Florida men aboard.

    The fifth spy completed his 13-year prison term last year and is now

    serving a three-year parole somewhere in the United States.

    The State Department official said that while what Gross was doing in

    Cuba was "perfectly legal anywhere else in the world," the five spies

    were convicted of clearly activities.

    The anniversary of Gross' arrest also brought a flurry of calls for his

    release, including one issued by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Ben

    Cardin, D-Md.

    "As the unjust imprisonment … nears its three year mark, we were

    hopeful that the Cuban government would soon announce its intention to

    grant Mr. Gross' release," the senators noted. "Though we are deeply

    disappointed by Cuba's failure to make such an indication today, our

    commitment to Alan's cause is undiminished and we will continue to work

    to ensure his immediate and unconditional release."

    In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesperson Mark Toner noted

    that Gross has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest and suffers

    from arthritis, and that his family wants him examined by a doctor of

    his own choosing.

    "We continue to ask the Cuban government to grant Alan Gross's request

    to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn

    Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue," Toner added.

    The head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, meanwhile, wrote

    to those who have expressed concerns about Gross' health, saying he does

    not have cancer and suffers only "from chronic illnesses that are

    typical of his age, which are receiving adequate treatment."

    "Mr. Gross maintains a systematic physical exercise regime on a

    voluntary basis and eats a balanced diet that includes foods of his

    choice, which has allowed him to get rid of his former obese condition,"

    wrote José Ramón Cabañas.

    "The Cuban government is sensitive to the humanitarian concerns" in the

    Gross case, he added, "and has expressed to [Washington] its willingness

    to find a reciprocal humanitarian solution that would also take into

    account highly sensitive humanitarian concerns of utmost importance for

    Cuba and its people" – the five spies.

    Peter Kornbluh, a Cuba specialist at the National Security Archives, an

    independent research center in Washington, reported that he met with

    Gross in Havana last week and found him "extremely thin" and dispirited.

    "He's angry, he's frustrated, he's dejected — and he wants his own

    government to step up" and negotiate, Kornbluh told NBC News. "His

    message is that the United States and Cuba have to sit down and have a

    dialogue without preconditions. … He told me that the first meeting

    should result in a non-belligerency pact being signed between the United

    States and Cuba."

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/03/v-fullstory/3125488/us-trading-alan-gross-for-cuban.html