By Michael Sneed, Chicago Sun-Times.com
Our man in Havana?
Former U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, who fears his government has ignored his plea to be freed from a tortuous four-year stint in a Cuban jail cell, has a new champion.
To wit: Former Gov. George Ryan, who was the first U.S. governor in 40 years to lead a trade delegation to Cuba and was promised a Cuban memorial by then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro for doing so, is now petitioning for the release of Gross.
Sneed has learned that Ryan, who was released earlier this year after serving more than five years in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., after a conviction on corruption charges, met recently with Rodney A. Gonzalez Maestrey, a member of the Cuban Interests Section of the U.S. State Department, to petition for the release of Gross.
“Gross is elderly and sick, his mother and daughter now have cancer, and I agree with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the man’s release is a matter of grave urgency,” said Ryan, who lost his wife, Lura Lynn, to cancer while he was in prison. Ryan claims he met Maestrey (sic) over lunch recently at the Union League Club to discuss Gross, who was charged with selling contraband satellite equipment to Cuban dissidents.
Gross reportedly was working on a U.S. government-funded project setting up Internet connections in Cuba. His family claims he was working to help Jewish groups set up Web access. Just recently, Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, sent a personal letter to President Barack Obama on the fourth anniversary of his incarceration, expressing fear that his government had “abandoned” him.
Ryan said he took advantage of an invitation to lunch “with the Cuban ambassador” while he was in town on tourism business “with men who had helped us in Cuba.”
Ryan dined with Fidel Castro twice in the past. “It was Castro who set up my subsequent meeting with Nelson Mandela when I led a trade mission to South Africa in 2000,” Ryan said. “I just thought maybe I could help in some way by getting a message to the Castro government somehow.”
Ryan now joins a bipartisan group of 66 U.S. senators seeking the release of Gross.
Durbin weighed in on the Gross case on the Senate floor last December, after a visit with the government contractor. “This man is not a threat to the sovereignty of the Cuban government, as they claim,” Durbin said then. “He’s a good man with good intentions, an honest man who just wants to come home to his family . . . Holding Alan Gross as a political hostage is the wrong way to solve any problem between our two countries.”
Editor’s Note: Rodney Amaury González Maestrey is a Third Secretary at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC.