Expelled Spy Josefina Vidal Sits in on Republican’s Meeting With Cuban Leaders Reply

Senior Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

Senior Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal

US Senators Meet Cuban Vice President, Foreign Minister

By Zee News

Havana: A delegation of United States’ Republican senators met with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and discussed bilateral relations and other issues.

Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Pat Roberts met with Diaz-Canel at the Palace of the Revolution on Saturday and discussed the “progress made in the modernisation of Cuba`s economic and social model”, current bilateral relations and the “need to end the embargo”, state-run National Information Agency (AIN) reported.

Cuban foreign ministry`s Director General for the US, Josefina Vidal, who heads the Cuban team in negotiations with Washington, attended both meetings.

The delegation – which arrived in Cuba on Friday – is the first ever made up entirely of the Republicans since Washington and Havana announced last December 17 the decision to renew diplomatic relations.

The new policy of US President Barack Obama toward Cuba has met with strong opposition from some sections of the Republican Party, in whose ranks, however, there are lawmakers like Jeff Flake that support bilateral understanding.

Senator Flake of Arizona is the chief promoter of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, introduced in the US Congress last January as a move toward ending legal restrictions on US citizens traveling to the island nation.

Flake, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, first traveled to Cuba last November along with Democrat Tom Udall to visit imprisoned US contractor Alan Gross, who was freed following the announcement of the thaw in US-Cuban relations.

Editor’s Note:  Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal was thrown out of the United States for espionage in 2003. She is likely to become the first Cuban Ambassador to the US under the Castro regime.

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“Cuban Five” Hailed as Heroes in Caracas 1

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the humanitarian search-and-rescue group,  "Brothers to the Rescue" members

The Cuban Five played a central role in the murder of four members of the search-and-rescue group, “Brothers to the Rescue”

By Jim Wyss, jwyss@MiamiHerald.com

The five Cuban spies recently released from U.S. custody spent a second day in Venezuela being hailed as heroes and bestowed with honors.

On Tuesday, President Nicolás Maduro honored the men at the National Pantheon, where South American liberator Simon Bolivar is interred, saying that they helped stop “dozens” of U.S. attacks on Cuba, including the bombing of hotels and the killing of foreign tourists.

Maduro also blamed the media for describing the men as “spies,” saying news agencies, including Reuters, Associated Press, AFP and EFE were “machines of media manipulation.”

“They declare war when there needs to be war and they pardon and turn people into angels when they need to be pardoned and turned into angels, even if that person is the world’s biggest murderer,” he said.

The five men were convicted in 2001 of infiltrating South Florida military installations and spying on the exile community. They were also linked to the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four exile pilots over the Florida Straits.

The last imprisoned members of the spy ring were released in December as Washington and Havana began rapprochement talks. Their release coincided with Cuba’s freeing of USAID contractor Alan Gross. The men are expected to be in Venezuela — Cuba’s closest ally — through Saturday.

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Alan Gross Appeal in Lawsuit Against U.S. Government 1

Alan Gross speaks on the phone with President Barack Obama after his release from Cuban prison on Dec. 17, 2014. (White House, public domain)

Alan Gross speaks on the phone with President Barack Obama after his release from Cuban prison on Dec. 17, 2014. (White House, public domain)

by Dusty Christensen, Latin America News Dispatch

NEW YORK — The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal on Monday by former government subcontractor Alan Gross, who filed a $60 million lawsuit in 2012 alleging negligence on the part of the U.S. government over the five years he spent in a Cuban prison.

The decision upholds a November 2014 ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which dismissed the case on the grounds that the United States is not liable for “claims arising in a foreign country.”

“We are certainly disappointed, but not surprised by the court’s decision,” said Gross’ lawyer Scott Gilbert in a statement to Latin America News Dispatch.

In 2009, Gross was arrested while working as a government subcontractor in Cuba, where he was distributing satellite phones and computer equipment to the island’s Jewish community as part of a USAID democracy promotion program. Cuban authorities

accused him of being a U.S. intelligence agent, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for participating in “a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities.”

In the lawsuit, Gross and his wife Judy say that Gross wasn’t properly informed of the perils of his work, which the “United States negligently directed, organized, and oversaw.” The case was dismissed in federal court, however, just one month before Gross was released from prison in December as part of the thawing of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Gross received $3.2 million in a separate case in December, when USAID reached a settlement with the subcontractor he was working with in Cuba, Development Alternatives, Inc.

As in the most recent ruling, however, the U.S. government denied any liability for Gross’ imprisonment. In a statement released in December, USAID said, “The settlement avoids the cost, delay and risks of further proceedings, and does not constitute an admission of liability by either party.”

Kelly: Ex-FBI Chief Tells of Cop-Killer Swap That Cuba Rejected 1

 ASSOCIATED PRESS  Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, above in 2013, said he presented a spies-for-Chesimard trade to Cuba through intermediaries.


ASSOCIATED PRESS
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, above in 2013, said he presented a spies-for-Chesimard trade to Cuba through intermediaries.

By Mike Kelly, Record Columnist -The Record [Bergen County, NJ]

Years before Joanne Chesimard was placed on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists and the bounty for her capture was increased to $2 million, federal authorities secretly reached out to their Cuban counterparts with a plan to bring the convicted cop killer back to New Jersey.

It was the fall of 1998. The FBI drew up a proposal to trade five captured Cuban spies for Chesimard, who had been convicted two decades earlier of killing a New Jersey state trooper in a turnpike gunfight but had broken out of jail and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.

Cuban authorities refused to discuss the proposed deal.

Three of those spies were sent back to Cuba in December in exchange for American contractor Alan Gross and a CIA operative. The two others had returned earlier after serving their U.S. prison terms.

The proposed 1998 trade, which has never been publicly acknowledged by either the United States or Cuba, was described in detail in two recent interviews with The Record by one of its originators, former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Why the plan failed may offer insight about the obstacles facing the state police, the FBI and a host of political figures as they renew efforts to bring back Chesimard. The story also illustrates the legacy of suspicion that permeates U.S.-Cuban relations.

In New Jersey, however, the renewed discussion of Chesimard’s fugitive status has reopened old wounds that date to an unsettling time in America — a time that was punctuated by a horrific confrontation on the New Jersey Turnpike between state troopers and members of the Black Liberation Army who were calling for an armed revolution.

Just before midnight on May 2, 1973, Chesimard, then 25, was traveling south with two male compatriots when two troopers stopped their car. Within minutes a wild gunbattle broke out, leaving Trooper Werner Foerster dead and his partner wounded.

Chesimard, who also was wounded, was later caught, charged with murder and sentenced to a life term. But in 1979, she escaped from the state women’s prison in Clinton and disappeared, only to turn up five years later in Cuba.

Chesimard, 67, and reportedly living in the Havana area under the name Assata Shakur, is regarded as a criminal by U.S. authorities. Cuba has never shown any inclination to rescind her political asylum, which was granted by Fidel Castro in the mid-1980s.

In the fall of 1998, however, Freeh thought he saw an opening for U.S. authorities to get their hands on Chesimard.

Feature continues here:  Chesimard deal

 

Alan Gross Takes Fight with Feds to U.S. Supreme Court 2

agBy Zoe Tillman, Legal Times, @zoetillman

Alan Gross, the American contractor freed after five years of detention in Cuba, is taking a lawsuit against the federal government to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gross wants the high court to review whether the government can be held responsible for injuries he and his wife claimed they suffered while he was detained in Cuba.

In a petition filed with the high court on Feb. 12, Gross and his wife Judith argued that a federal appeals court in Washington was wrong to find that the federal government was immune against all of the Gross’ claims, including economic losses in the United States and Judith Gross’ emotional distress. The appeals court found that those injuries stemmed from Gross’ incarceration in Cuba, triggering immunity for the feds.

“The decisions of the lower courts will have profound negative consequences for all U.S. residents who travel abroad, no matter how briefly, including those who travel for work,” Gross’ lawyers argued in the petition. “The decisions would mean that a U.S. resident who travels abroad for one day and suffers some injury during that limited time would have no redress for any subsequent harm occurring solely in the United States, even if that domestic injury dwarfs the foreign injuries.”

Gross was working as a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor in Cuba when he was detained by authorities there in 2009. In 2011, he was convicted of attempting to subvert the Cuban government and sentenced to 15 years in prison. While Gross was still incarcerated, he and his wife, who was in the United States, sued the federal government and the contractor who hired him, arguing they were negligent in failing to alert Gross to the riskiness of his work and in preparing him for those risks.

Gross reached a confidential settlement with the contractor, Developer Alternatives Inc. A federal district judge dismissed the case against the U.S. government in May 2013 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that decision in November—one month before Gross was released.

Gross’ lawyers at Gilbert LLP declined on Friday to discuss their petition to the Supreme Court.

On appeal to the high court, Gross and his wife are also arguing that the lower courts created an unconstitutional distinction between plaintiffs suing the federal government for injuries that took place solely in the United States and those who suffered some or all of their injuries abroad.

The government’s response is due March 16.

Editor’s Note:  Alan Gross already received $3.2 million from a 2014 lawsuit.

Expelled Spy Likely To Lead Migration, Normalization Talks With US 13

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

Directorate of Intelligence (DI) officer Josefina Vidal, thrown out of the US in May 2003 for espionage.

By Chris Simmons

The next round of US-Cuban discussions will be held on January 21 and 22 in Havana. Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee is expected to lead the U.S. delegation at the migration talks on the 21st, while Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson will lead at the normalization talks on Jan. 22nd.

The Cuban delegation is expected to be led by Josefina Vidal, director of the North American Affairs Division within Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vidal led the previous round of migration talks last July in Washington, D.C. A member of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, Vidal was thrown out of the US in May 2003 as part of a mass expulsion of Havana’s spy-diplomats. For five years, her office also played a central role in the negotiations regarding the return of USAID contractor Alan Gross.

NYT: Bergdahl Deal Weighed Heavily on US-Cuba Prisoner Swap Talks Reply

SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IN AFGHANISTANvia Newsmax.com

The secret talks to free Alan Gross from Cuba were complicated by the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in return for five Taliban commanders, The New York Times reports.

Bergdahl, who had been held prisoner in Afghanistan for nearly five years, had just been released for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay when two White House officials, Benjamin Rhodes and Ricardo Zuniga, traveled to Ottawa, Canada, for negotiations with their Cuban counterparts. The Cubans were able to point to Bergdahl’s release as the precedent for the Obama administration to approve a Gross exchange deal for three Cuban agents held in the United States, a senior administration official told the Times.

The Cubans were in a hurry to have the prisoner swap approved by the White House because Gross’s mother Evelyn was dying of cancer, and they feared her death (she died June 18) would result in a then-distraught Gross killing himself and thus wiping out their main bargaining chip.

Gross was working for a subcontractor of U.S. Agency for International Development in 2009 when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. As a contractor, he was installing internet access for the island’s small Jewish community that bypassed Cuba’s restrictions.

But Bergdahl’s freedom added a new wrinkle to the talks with the Cubans to get Gross out, especially in light of allegations that the soldier had deserted his outpost in a remote area of Afghanistan, according to the newspaper.

Bergdahl’s release in exchange for the Taliban terrorists caused a firestorm in Congress, with Republicans in particular taking aim at President Barack Obama’s deal. And the uproar led the White House to demand that any arrangement to free Gross and the Cuban spies would have to be more than a simple prisoner swap.

“We made the point, ‘This shows you how controversial swaps are. This is something we are only willing to consider in the context of an appropriate exchange,’ ” a senior official told the Times. “The important thing was not to see the swap as the end, but the gateway to the policy changes.”

Eventually, the deal included the controversial resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries after 53 years of enmity, as well as the release of 53 Cuban political prisoners and an ex-Cuban intelligence officer, Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, who had worked for the CIA.

Article continues here:  Bergdahl

 

 

Settlement Results in $3.2 Million Check for Alan Gross 1

This photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross with his wife Judy before leaving Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity. AP

This photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross with his wife Judy before leaving Cuba, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity. AP

By Mimi Whitefield, mwhitefield@MiamiHerald.com

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Development Alternatives Inc. finalized a settlement this week for claims related to USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who was released from a Cuban prison last week.

Development Alternatives is the Maryland-based international development firm that subcontracted a USAID pro-democracy program to Gross to introduce satellite communications equipment into Cuba.

The amount of the settlement wasn’t disclosed but CNN reported that as part of it, Gross was to be paid $3.2 million.

Gross was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, and held in Cuba until last Wednesday when the Cubans released him as a humanitarian gesture. His release, as well as the swap of a CIA agent held in Cuba for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, paved the way for a historic agreement that will restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.

USAID said the settlement resolves unanticipated claims pending before the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals under a cost-reimbursement contract and included claims related to Gross, who had served five years of a 15-year sentence at the time of his release.

The U.S. government has maintained that Gross was simply providing Internet access for the Jewish community in Cuba but the Cuban government said he was convicted for “illegally and covertly introducing … communications equipment meant only for military purposes.”

The Grosses filed a $60 million negligence suit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against both DAI and the federal government, alleging they had failed to adequately train and prepare him for the risks he would face in Cuba.

DAI earlier settled with the Grosses for an undisclosed amount but a judge dismissed the case against the government, saying it was immune from any claim arising in a foreign country.

USAID said the settlement with DAI, which was announced Tuesday, “avoids the cost, delay and risks of further proceedings, and does not constitute an admission of liability by either party.”

Cuban Relatives of U.S. Spy in Dark After News of Release 3

Vilma Sarraff Trujillo

Vilma Sarraff Trujillo

By Phil Stewart and David Adams

(Reuters) – His release from a Cuban prison has been as cloak-and-dagger as his spying career ever was.

Not even the family of Rolando Sarraff Trujillo appears to know what has happened to the Cuban man believed by some to be the U.S. informant secretly freed in a prisoner swap between Cuba and the United States that was announced on Wednesday.

“All I can say is that … my brother has disappeared,” his sister, Vilma Sarraff Trujillo, said by telephone from Spain on Friday, noting that Sarraff’s family in Cuba has not heard from him in days and has not been able to pry any information from Cuban officials. “We don’t know anything.”

Unlike the televised homecoming of Alan Gross, the former U.S. aid worker who became a household name in diplomatic circles, the United States and Cuba have declined to publicly disclose the identity of the freed spy.

The White House and U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday declined to confirm or deny media reports that Sarraff, who had been in a Cuban prison since 1995, was indeed the freed spy.

There’s good reason why he might be out of sight.

“He’s probably in some very quiet place being debriefed. They want to know exactly what happened,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official said. “It would be a standard thing.”

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence’s office credited the unnamed freed spy as having been “instrumental in the identification and disruption of several Cuban intelligence operatives in the United States.”

Chris Simmons, a former senior counter-intelligence official at the Defense Intelligence Agency, described Sarraff – familiarly known as “Roly” – as a cryptographer who worked for Cuba’s director of intelligence, citing accounts from Cuban defectors.

He said Cuba communicated with its spies through short-wave radio, using groups of numbers to send coded messages. Sarraff would have been able to help the United States break that code.

“Roly was arrested in 1995. Almost immediately the FBI can read Cuban communications,” Simmons said, saying he believed Sarraff was the one released based on the U.S. government’s description of the spy’s work.

Feature continues here:  Cuban Relatives

Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross 2

Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross

Bill Clinton Says Future of U.S.-Cuban Relations Hinge on Fate of Alan Gross

Fox News Latino

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton hinted Thursday that any future relations between Washington and Havana hinge on the Cuban government releasing USAID subcontractor Alan Gross from prison.

Speaking with the Miami Herald, Clinton said that his wife and prospective Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, was in favor of ending the 50-plus years long embargo with Cuba.

“I think we would be well on our way to doing it [ending the blockade] if they released Alan Gross,” he said of the contractor who has served five years of a 15-year sentence. “It is really foolish to allow what is clearly a questionable incarceration to imperil the whole future of U.S.-Cuban relations, but that’s not my call to make.”

The White House last week also urged Cuba to release U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the Communist-ruled island after being convicted for subversion.

“Five years ago today Alan Gross was arrested for his efforts to help ordinary Cuban citizens have greater access to information through the Internet,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

President Barack Obama’s administration “remains focused on securing Alan’s freedom from a Cuban prison” and officials in Washington are “deeply concerned” about the health of the 65-year-old Gross, Earnest said.

“The Cuban Government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” the statement concluded.

Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community.

He traveled to the island for Development Alternatives Inc., a Maryland company acting under a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information in Cuba.

In his interview with the Miami Herald, Clinton also took on a more open approach to Cuba than he or most other U.S. presidents have taken while in office. He praised the country’s role in responding to the devastation in the wake of Haiti’s massive earthquake and in responding to the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Feature continues here: Bill Clinton