Photo: Alan Gross
The Cuban government reiterated Wednesday its readiness for talks with Washington to resolve the situations of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, currently behind bars in Cuba for subversion, and of four Cuban intelligence agencies sitting in federal prison in the United States.
“At this moment, as from the first day, the ball is on their side, as the Cubans say,” the foreign ministry’s deputy director for the United States, Johanna Tablada, said.
“We are awaiting a response from the United States government. I would like there to be no doubt about that,” she said.
Alan Gross, 64, traveled to Cuba on behalf of a Maryland company that won a contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information in the Communist-ruled island.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 with satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community. Havana said he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion.
Last August, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American five months earlier.
Cuba has hinted that it would release Gross in exchange for the return of the four members of the “Cuban Five” who remain jailed in the United States.
Washington dismisses talk of a possible swap and insists that Cuba free Gross immediately and without conditions.
One of the five Cuban intelligence agents, Chicago-born Rene Gonzalez, was paroled after serving 13 years and recently returned to Cuba after renouncing his U.S. citizenship.
He and four colleagues - Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez - were arrested in 1998 and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.
The Cuban Five have always insisted they were spying on Miami’s Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.
Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative.
The other four spies remain in prison and one of them, Hernandez, is serving two life sentences for Cuba’s downing of two small aircraft belonging to Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue, which resulted in four deaths.
Rene Gonzalez, who joined Tablada on Wednesday for a discussion of the plight of his four colleagues, said President Barack Obama could use his executive authority to commute the Cubans’ sentences.
“He can do it ... the only thing he needs is courage. One assumes that a president of a country has a little courage,” Gonzalez said.