Photo: Raul Castro Meets w/ U.S. Senators
Cuban President Raul Castro met here with two members of a visiting delegation of U.S. lawmakers, Communist Party daily Granma said Friday.
Castro received Sens. Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby on Thursday night to discuss “subjects of interest to Cuba and the United States,” the daily said in a brief article.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Shelby, who represents Alabama, is the ranking Republican on the banking committee.
Cuba’s official press published a photo of the meeting but gave no details about the U.S. delegation’s agenda.
The visit came several days after the date marking half a century since Washington’s economic and trade embargo on Havana went into effect, one of the principal sources of conflict between the two countries.
Other heated topics of their bilateral political dispute include the case of the U.S. contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for subversion, and five Cuban agents jailed in the United States on charges of espionage.
Alan Gross was arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009, in possession of satellite communications equipment he said he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community.
Havana says he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on Gross five months earlier.
Gross, now 62, was in Cuba as an employee of a Maryland firm contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The “Cuban Five” - Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez - were arrested by the FBI in 1998 and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.
Though one of the group, Rene Gonzalez, completed his custodial sentence last October and was released, he has not been permitted to go home, as the federal courts say he must serve his three-year probation on U.S. soil.
The Cuban government insists it has repeatedly conveyed to Washington its readiness to find a “reciprocal humanitarian” solution to the Gross case.
In December Raul Castro received the head of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, who brought up the subject of Gross at the meeting and said that Cuba should consider the humanitarian aspects of the case.
The Cuban president on several occasions has shown himself willing to hold talks with the United States, but on a basis of equality and without conditions, while at the same time criticizing Washington’s “resistance to change” and “lack of political will.”