Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton writes

    Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton writes
    In soon-to-be-released book, former secretary of state says Havana’s
    refusal to release Alan Gross is a ‘tragedy’ for detente
    BY AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF June 6, 2014, 9:35 am

    Efforts to ease decades of US-Cuba tensions were stymied by the
    detention of Jewish American contractor Alan Gross and Havana has used
    him to avoid rapprochement, Hillary Clinton writes in her new memoir of
    her time as secretary of state.

    In her new book, Hard Choices, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of
    its release next week, Clinton, who served as secretary from 2008 to
    2012, says she pushed President Barack Obama to lift or ease the
    decades-long US embargo on Cuba because it was no longer useful to
    American interests or promoting change on the communist island.

    Despite moves toward detente, the 2009 arrest by Cuba of Gross and
    Havana’s refusal to release him on humanitarian grounds became a
    “tragedy” for improving ties, Clinton writes.

    Clinton said she suspected that some in Cuba are using the Gross case
    “as an opportunity to put the brakes on any possible rapprochement with
    the United States and the domestic reforms that would require.”

    “If so,” she writes, “it is a double tragedy, consigning millions of
    Cubans to a kind of continued imprisonment as well.”

    Cuba arrested and imprisoned Gross, a contractor working for the US
    Agency for International Development, who the US says was trying to help
    Cuba’s small Jewish community communicate with the rest of the world. He
    was convicted of trying to subvert the Cuban state and sentenced to 15
    years in prison. Despite repeated appeals from the US, Gross remains in
    prison in Cuba.

    In the book, Clinton says she spoke out frequently about Gross’s
    imprisonment and was disappointed that “the Castros created new problems
    by arresting” him.

    She said Cuba has refused to consider Gross’s release until the US frees
    all of the “Cuban Five” spies who have been imprisoned in the United
    States. The US has rejected Cuba’s demands to link the cases.

    Hopes for an early release for Gross were momentarily raised this week
    when the US agreed to exchange five Taliban prisoners for captured Army
    Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

    But any hints that the US government was open to negotiating a similar
    exchange for Gross were quickly dashed when State Department
    spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked Monday if such a deal were possible.

    “No,” she said.

    “We look at each case differently,” said Psaki, stressing that
    Bergdahl’s case was an extraordinary measure to free a prisoner of war.
    The Pentagon has described the exchange as an expression of the bedrock
    principle that no soldier is left behind on the battlefield.

    A spokesperson for the Gross family said they are not commenting on the
    Bergdahl case or anything related to it.

    In May, two US lawmakers met Gross face-to-face in Cuba and said it’s
    time for the Obama administration to step up efforts to bring him home.

    Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) said Gross “feels very much that he’s a
    pawn. He’s been kidnapped in a sense.”

    “I’ve frankly come back a little critical of our own administration who
    say they are working on it but, according to the Cubans, there isn’t
    much that they’re hearing,” he said.

    Lawmakers want the White House to push harder. In November, a coalition
    of 66 senators signed a letter to President Obama calling for him to
    take whatever steps are in the national interest to free Gross.

    In excerpts of the book, Clinton writes that the embargo on Cuba has
    given communist leaders Fidel and Raul Castro an excuse not to enact
    democratic reforms. And she says opposition from some in Congress to
    normalizing relations — “to keep Cuba in a deep freeze” — has hurt both
    the United States and the Cuban people.

    “Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the
    island in hopes of squeezing Castro from power, but it only succeeded in
    giving him a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes,” she writes. She
    says her husband, former president Bill Clinton, tried to improve
    relations with Cuba in the 1990s, but the Castro government did not
    respond to the easing in some sanctions. Nonetheless, Obama was
    determined to continue the effort, she writes.

    She says that, late in her term in office, she urged Obama to reconsider
    the US embargo. “It wasn’t achieving its goals,” she writes, “and it was
    holding back our broader agenda across Latin America… I thought we
    should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained
    undemocratic and abusive.”

    Clinton writes that in the face of “a stone wall” from the Castro
    regime, she and Obama decided to engage directly with the Cuban people.

    “We believed that the best way to bring change to Cuba would be to
    expose its people to the values, information and material comforts of
    the outside world,” she says.

    The steps that Obama took, including allowing more travel to the island
    and increasing the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send back to the
    island, have had a positive effect, she writes.

    Ben Zehavi contributed to this report

    Source: Detention of Jewish contractor blocking US-Cuba thaw, Clinton
    writes | The Times of Israel –