NEW YORK -- There’s no chance for broadening American-Cuban relations until Cuba releases American subcontractor Alan Gross from prison, Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. said Tuesday.
During a presentation at the Council of the Americas in New York, Jacobson reiterated the State Department’s belief that the Cuban government has no basis for refusing to release Gross, but remains optimistic that the Cuban people’s desire for a more open society might influence a decision on his release.
“While we really wished that we could have moved forward with a broader agenda with the Cuban government, it is the Cuban government that has made that extremely difficult,” Jacobson said. “There is a very easy way to resolve that part of the agenda and that is to release Alan Gross… just to be home with his mother, who has cancer, and his daughter, who went through breast cancer last year.”
Jacobson’s remarks come just one week after the third anniversary of Gross’ arrest and imprisonment in Cuba. Gross, a 63-year-old native of Maryland, was arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009, after delivering satellite telephones to Cuban Jews so they could access the Web outside of the government’s telecommunications system. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for acts against the “independence or territorial integrity” of Cuba.
“We’ve been very clear about who Alan Gross is and what he did,” Jacobson said, rejecting a suggestion by a member of the audience that U.S. officials have misled about financing Gross’ visits with pro-democracy program funds. “We feel he needs to be treated as an international development worker. He isn’t and wasn’t a spy and he should be returned to his family.”
Jacobson also highlighted some of the Obama administration’s key priorities in the Western Hemisphere; including energy development, expanding educational exchange opportunities for students, and encouraging freedom of expression and the press.