Bill Richardson in Cuba to seek release of Alan Gross

09/08/2011 6:55 AM

09/08/2011 9:50 AM

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson flew to Cuba on Wednesday at the invitation of the Raúl Castro government, apparently to discuss the release of a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana for 22 months.

The case of Alan P. Gross has become a key stumbling block in efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, with the Obama administration saying repeatedly that no major changes can take place until he returns home.

Gross’s Washington lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, issued a statement Wednesday on behalf of the family saying, “We are pleased that the Cuban government invited Governor Richardson to Havana.”

Although Richardson and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have tried unsuccessfully in the past to win Gross’s freedom, Kahn’s mention of the invitation, if true, could indicate that Castro is ready to move on the case.

The Kahn statement added that the family welcomes “any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan’s release. We are grateful to Governor Richardson for his continued efforts.”

“We hope that the Governor and Cuban authorities are able to find common ground that will allow us to be reunited as a family before the Jewish High Holy Days,” the statement concluded.

Richardson, who has made at least one previous trip to the island in an attempt to win Gross’s release, arrived in Cuba on Wednesday but could not be reached immediately for comment.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials “are aware of Governor Richardson’s trip to Cuba and have been in contact with him. While Governor Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, we certainly support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross’s release.”

Gross, a 62-year-old international development specialist from Potomac, Md., was arrested Dec. 3, 2009 in Havana after delivering a satellite telephone to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community so that it could have direct access to the Internet.

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