Saturday, February 20, 2010

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US demands immediate release of American held in Cuba

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HAVANA (AFP) – The United States demanded Friday the "immediate release" of an American contractor who has been detained in Cuba since December, the US State Department said. A visiting high-level US delegation engaged in immigration talks with Havana "raised the case of the US citizen detained in Cuba on December 4 and called for his immediate release," said a statement from the US Interests Section, Washington's mission in the communist-ruled country. The US government has identified the man, 60-year-old Alan Gross, as a government contractor with Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) of Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, who was seeking to help Jewish groups communicate with people outside the country by distributing mobile phones and computers. Havana has slammed him as a US spy seeking to harm the communist regime, with President Raul Castro saying Gross used "sophisticated" communications equipment to help opposition groups in their role as "mercenaries" for the United States. Friday's statement was signed by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, although he was not in Havana. The US delegation was led by Craig Kelly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, President Barack Obama's highest-ranking envoy to Cuba for fresh talks on migration issues with the island nation.

U.S. pushes for release of American jailed in Cuba

February 20, 2010 4:13 a.m. EST
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Wife wants husband released
  • U.S. diplomats want Cuba to release Alan Gross who has been in jail since December
  • Cuban president claims Gross tried to illegally distribute satellite equipment to dissidents
  • Gross' wife recently made video appeal for husband's release
Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- U.S. diplomats on Friday called for the immediate release of an American who has been jailed in Cuba for months.
The appeal for the release of Alan Gross came during high-level meetings between a U.S. delegation and Cuban officials, the State Department said.
"The U.S. delegation separately raised the case of the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba on December 4 and called for his immediate release," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement.
Judy Gross also produced a video appeal for her husband's release this week.
"We're hoping that the U.S. officials and the Cuban officials can get together and mutually agree on a way to bring him home," she said.
Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc. said Gross was a subcontractor working for them on a U.S. Agency for International Development project to support "just and democratic governance" in Cuba.
In a speech last December, Cuban President Raul Castro said Gross was illegally distributing "satellite communications equipment" to dissidents.
"The U.S. government has not renounced its goal of destroying the revolution," he said. "The enemy is as active as always. Proof of that is the detention, in the last few days, of an American citizen."
She said her husband wasn't doing anything wrong.
"In Cuba, he was helping the Jewish community improve communications and Internet access," she said. "Alan is an incredibly loving father. We've been married 40 years. His daughters miss him terribly."
The U.S. delegation was headed by Craig Kelly, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.
Along with urging the release of Gross, the delegation spoke about immigration issues.
The long-standing negotiations were broken off in 2003 under President George W. Bush, but the two countries resumed contact last summer amid hopes of a thaw between the Cold War enemies.
Initial optimism, however, has given way to disappointment with both sides accusing the other of doing too little to improve relations.
The U.S. delegation said the meetings went well.
"In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly and legal migration," the State Department said. "Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern."

Cuba blasts US leaders for meeting with dissidents

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HAVANA – Cuba scolded a top U.S. delegation for meeting with political opposition leaders following high-level immigration discussions, saying Saturday that sitting down with dissidents proves Washington is out to topple its communist government. American officials "called together dozens of their mercenaries" hours after concluding highly anticipated talks on migration issues with Cuban leaders in an undisclosed Havana location, Cuba's Foreign Ministry said. Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said a group of Cuban dissident leaders met with a U.S. delegation late Friday at the residence of the head of the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington keeps in Havana because it has no diplomatic relations with the island. Such a meeting is not unusual when U.S. diplomats visit. But enraged Cuban leaders say the dissidents are not pro-democracy activists, independent journalists and organizers of political opposition groups, but paid agents of Washington planted to destabilize the island's political system. In a statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the Foreign Ministry said U.S. leaders' meeting with dissidents, was "contrary to the spirit of cooperation and understanding showed on Cuba's part" during the immigration talks and "demonstrated anew that (U.S.) priorities are more related to supporting the counterrevolution and the promotion of subversion to destabilize the Cuban revolution than with the creation of a climate conducive to real solutions to bilateral problems." It also said Washington funnels "more than $20 million" to groups that openly oppose its government, many based in southern Florida. The U.S. delegation was headed by Craig Kelly, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and the highest-ranking American official to visit in years. While meeting with their Cuban counterparts earlier Friday, the delegation strayed from the topic of immigration and called for the immediate release of an American held in a maximum security prison without charge for nearly three months. Cuba alleges Alan P. Gross, a 60-year-old from Maryland who came to Cuba as an American government contractor, is a spy whose arrest is more evidence Washington is working to topple its political system. Gross' family maintains he is a veteran development worker who was distributing communications equipment to Cuban Jewish groups. Except for Gross' case and the subsequent American meeting with dissidents, both sides had offered restrained praise for the immigration discussions, which lasted about five hours. The Cubans said the talks were positive and respectful, while the U.S. called them part of a larger, constructive process. Cuba's Foreign Ministry said in its Saturday statement that its delegation also talked about subjects not related to immigration, including the release of five Cuban agents imprisoned in Miami since the 1990s after being convicted of spying. Cuba considers them anti-terrorist fighters who were trying to shut down a bombing campaign by anti-Castro Cuban-Americans.

US seeks 'positive results' in Cuba migration talks

HAVANA (AFP) – US officials expressed hope that high-level migration talks with Cuba on Friday would yield "positive results," but also demanded that Havana release an American consultant held here since December. The most senior US delegation to the communist-ruled island in years sought to advance progress on US-Cuba Migration Accords in the second round of talks on the contentious issue in the past year. "In the course of the meeting, the US team... reaffirmed the US commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a measured statement released by the US Interests Section, Washington's mission to the communist-ruled country. The US delegation, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, "highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the accords," Crowley added. The talks were "conducted in a respectful environment," said a joint statement released by the Cuban delegation, which was headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez. "The meeting reaffirmed the importance and usefulness of this method" of consultation, Rodriguez said after the meeting, according to the statement. The two sides discussed what Crowley described as "longstanding US priorities on Cuba migration issues," including Havana's assurances that the US mission can "operate fully and effectively" and to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants. Crowley said "the United States views these talks as an avenue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the accords and to the safety of citizens of both countries." US President Barack Obama's administration last year resumed talks on migration with Cuba that had been conducted every two years until his predecessor George W. Bush suspended them in 2003. A senior US diplomat, Bisa Williams, traveled to Havana in September to meet with Cuban officials and discuss another prospect for improving relations -- resuming direct mail service that had been suspended between the two countries since 1963. Cuba's government has a longstanding interest in migration dialogue with the United States as it seeks to stem persistent illegal US-bound emigration of its nationals across the shark-infested Florida Straits. Obama took office last year with a mission of reaching out to adversaries like Cuba. The United States broke off relations with the communist island in 1961. The Obama administration has lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba, but it has urged Havana to free political prisoners and improve political freedoms. On Friday, the US delegation called for the "immediate release" of a US citizen detained in Cuba since December 4. The US government has identified the prisoner as Alan Gross, a 60-year-old government contractor with Development Alternatives Inc who was seeking to help Jewish groups communicate with people outside the country by distributing mobile phones and computers. Havana has slammed him as a US spy seeking to harm the communist regime.