Cuba won’t budge on jailed American contractor, insists on prisoner swap
By Mary Murray, NBC News
Cuba’s government on Wednesday continued to tie the fate of an American contractor jailed there for four years to the release of four Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998. Responding to renewed calls for Havana to free 64-year-old American contractor Alan Gross, Director General of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, said in a statement that the government is open to negotiations for a swap of prisoners.
“The Cuban government reiterates its readiness to immediately establish a dialogue with the United States government to find a solution to the case of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis, and which addresses the humanitarian concerns of Cuba relating to the case of the four Cuban anti-terrorist fighters in prison in the United States,” she said.
Ferreiro (sic) was referring to four remaining members of the “Cuban Five” held in U.S. prisons after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and other charges in 1998. The prisoners — Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González — are national heroes in Cuba, and the governments of Raul Castro and Fidel Castro before him have made winning their freedom a priority. The fifth member of the group, René González, was released in October 2011 and subsequently returned to Cuba.
“(The Cuban prisoners) … serve long and unjust prison sentences for crimes they did not commit and which were never proved,” Ferreiro (sic) said in the statement. “Their imprisonment has a high human cost to them and their families. They have not seen their children grow, they have lost mothers, fathers and brothers, face health problems, and have been separated from their families and their homeland for over 15 years now.”
Gross, an Agency for International Development contractor, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, and accused of smuggling sophisticated satellite and other telecommunications equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. Gross has said he was only trying to increase internet access in Cuba. But he was convicted by a Cuban court in March 2011 of crimes “against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” and sentenced to 15 years.
Since then, he has lost more than 100 pounds in the Cuban prison where he is being held, according to his wife, Judy, and supporters. President Barack Obama’s spokesman, the U.S. State Department and 66 U.S. senators used the fourth anniversary of Gross’ arrest on Tuesday to urge Cuba to free him.
Editor’s Note: Vidal departed Washington in May 2003 after the US declared her husband and 13 other Cuban spy-diplomats Persona Non Grata. Among the seven spies expelled from the Cuban Interest Section was her husband, First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, “voluntarily” returned to Cuba.
The husband-wife spy team was chosen for expulsion, in part, because Washington knew Havana historically withdraws the spouse of any expelled spy.