Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    American Released by Cuba Plays Role as U.S. Relations With Havana Thaw

    American Released by Cuba Plays Role as U.S. Relations With Havana Thaw
    By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLDMAY 2, 2015

    MEXICO CITY — For five years, Alan P. Gross, an American aid worker, sat
    in a Cuba prison growing so despondent that he openly considered suicide.

    Now Mr. Gross is contemplating a return visit to Cuba, and helping a new
    political action committee raise money to support elected officials and
    candidates promoting freer trade and travel to the island.

    He will appear at a fund-raiser on May 4 in Miami at the home of his
    lawyer, Scott Gilbert, in support of New Cuba PAC, whose leaders said
    they hoped to capitalize on the détente between the United States and
    Cuba to push for broader access to the island for Americans.

    Mr. Gross will lead an “off the record discussion on modernizing
    U.S.-Cuba policy” at the fund-raiser, which suggests contributions of
    $1,000 to $5,000.

    Mr. Gross declined an interview, but he has emerged on Twitter as a
    loquacious commentator on United States-Cuban affairs. In February, he
    testified in Congress in support of restoring diplomatic relations and
    easing trade and travel restrictions as a step toward increasing the
    flow of information to Cuba.

    Mr. Gilbert said Mr. Gross had “transcended the imprisonment he suffered
    for five years” and had promised since his release to “do what he could
    to promote a more constructive relationship” between the countries.

    Ultimately he would like to return to Cuba, Mr. Gilbert said, “in a
    different capacity” than the trip that led to his jailing, if it would
    help promote relations — and, of course, if Cuba would be as forgiving
    as he has been.

    Mr. Gross’s case was central to the move by President Obama and
    President Raúl Castro to seek normalized relations, more than 50 years
    after both countries withdrew their ambassadors and closed embassies in
    the Cold War.

    He was detained in December 2009 while delivering prohibited
    communications equipment to Cuba’s small Jewish community as part of a
    United States Agency for International Development program to spread
    Internet access in the country. Cuba charged him with crimes against the
    state and refused to let him go even as his health deteriorated and
    advocates pleaded for his release.

    American and Cuban government negotiators eventually agreed on his
    return to the United States, an exchange of other prisoners who had been
    held on espionage charges and to work toward restoring full diplomatic
    relations and reopening embassies. At the same time Mr. Obama took his
    broadest steps to loosen trade and travel restrictions and soften the
    five-decade-long trade embargo mandated by Congress.

    The new PAC aims to carry those moves further and is part of a
    coordinated campaign, along with a new advocacy group, Engage Cuba, made
    up of Republican and Democratic political operatives.

    They hope to seize on what they see as momentum against the embargo and
    to work toward its weakening and ultimate lifting.

    “We think that there’s a legitimate path to get Congress to do something
    constructive on Cuba and this PAC will be a key part of that effort,”
    said Luis Miranda, a political strategist who is serving as a consultant
    for the PAC.

    He declined to say how much money the PAC plans to raise at the event or
    in the near future, but said it would have bipartisan contributors and
    serve as a counterweight to another PAC that for several years has
    campaigned to maintain the embargo.

    That group, U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, has raised $4 million since its
    inception in 2004, though its peak performance was $802,000 collected in
    the two-year reporting cycle ending in 2008.

    It spent $1 million, mostly on Republican officials. It raised $560,000
    in the period ending in December 2014, including a last-minute surge of
    $55,000 after Mr. Obama’s announcement.

    Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the PAC, shrugged off the new
    competitor, predicting it would join a few others in recent years that
    made similar promises but fizzled.

    “Anti-sanctions activists have started many PACs throughout the last few
    years,” he said, noting that none rose above $90,000 in donations. “All
    of their fund-raising numbers have been dismal.”

    But James A. Williams, an organizer of both the new PAC and the advocacy
    group Engage Cuba, said the climate had clearly changed in recent
    months, with Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro holding unprecedented talks,
    American companies anxious to get in and do business with Cuba, visits
    by Americans soaring and polls in both countries showing strong
    opposition to the embargo.

    “The time is right to build a competitive organization,” said Mr.
    Williams, a Democratic political consultant.

    Congress may provide a test of sentiment on Cuba.

    After Mr. Obama announced that he would remove Cuba from a list of
    states that sponsored international terrorism, a crucial step in
    negotiations to restore diplomatic ties, congressional Republicans
    opposed to the warming backed down from threats to block the move with
    legislation. They blamed legal technicalities, but supporters of the
    policy said it was a sign the votes were not there.

    Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, has sponsored a bill to relax
    trade and travel restrictions. It has gained a range of bipartisan
    co-sponsors but has yet to move out of the Senate Foreign Relations
    Committee.

    On Tuesday, however, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American
    Republican from the Miami area, filed legislation into a larger budget
    bill that would effectively prohibit new flights and cruises to Cuba,
    saying Mr. Obama’s new regulations had violated bans on tourist travel
    there.

    Source: American Released by Cuba Plays Role as U.S. Relations With
    Havana Thaw – NYTimes.com –
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/world/americas/alan-gross-an-american-released-by-cuba-plays-role-as-us-relations-with-havana-thaw.html?_r=0