Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Senators fail to free prisoner from Cuba

    Senators fail to free prisoner from Cuba
    By Patrick Oppmann CNN
    POSTED: 08:17 PM CST Nov 11, 2014

    HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -
    When U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake and Tom Udall fly back from Cuba to the
    United States on Wednesday, they will carry the regret of not being able
    to take with them Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a
    15-year prison sentence on the island.

    “Alan wants to come home,” Flake, an Arizona Republican, said at a news
    conference after a two-hour meeting with the imprisoned American on Tuesday.

    The two senators, who are critics of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba,
    said they had come to Cuba to again push for Gross’ release. They said
    his imprisonment is an impediment to improved U.S.-Cuba relations.

    “Other people have tried to come and meet with him and not been able
    to,” said Udall, a New Mexico Democrat. “That’s an optimistic thing.”

    Last week, CNN was the first to report that Gross was refusing to meet
    with U.S. diplomats in Havana, in protest over the slow progress to free

    Gross’ attorney Scott Gilbert said his client told him he would be happy
    to see U.S. officials “at the airport, when he leaves Cuba, assuming
    he’s alive.”

    Flake and Udall said they also met Tuesday with Cuban Foreign Minister
    Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

    The Cuban government has called for a prisoner swap: Gross for three
    imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy federal prison
    sentences in the United States.

    But the U.S. State Department has nixed the idea of a swap, saying Gross
    was an aid worker merely trying to help Cuba’s small Jewish community
    get online despite Cuban government restrictions on Internet access.

    Frustrated by the diplomatic impasse, Gross has threatened to kill
    himself if he isn’t freed soon.

    “I do feel we are closer,” Flake said. “One, because of what Alan Gross
    has said himself. This is going to end one way or another. We have gone
    on five years and any benefit the Cuban government may have seen has to
    have evaporated.”

    Gross was arrested in 2009 for smuggling in banned communications
    equipment to Cuba.

    He was convicted of violating the island’s sovereignty and sentenced to
    15 years in prison. Cuban authorities say he was part of a larger
    program by the U.S. Agency for International Development to undermine
    the island’s single-party communist form of government.

    In 2014, USAID had to defend programs to create a text messaging “Cuban
    Twitter” program to stir dissent and another program to recruit future
    leaders on the island.

    On Monday, The Associated Press reported that the agency would soon
    cease all covert programs in Cuba.

    “There’s been a statement that there wont be covert programs run out of
    AID anymore and that’s a good thing,” Flake said. “Its not just a source
    of tension between the countries, it puts Americans in danger and really
    cheapens AID’s mission around the world.”

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