After US and Taliban achieve prisoner exchange
HAVANA TIMES — A virtual spokesperson for the Cuban government reiterated today the Castro administration’s willingness to swap US citizen Alan Gross for the three Cuban Five members still imprisoned in the USA.
His remarks came as the US and the Taliban made public an exchange that freed a US soldier in Afghanistan for the release to Qatar of Taliban militants held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo, reported dpa news.
“From the US perspective there is little to prevent a similar exchange,” said Fernando Gonzalez in Havana. Gonzalez is one of the two Cuban Five members released from prison in the US after serving out their term.
Gonzalez was arrested in 1998 along with four other Cubans as part of a larger spy ring in the United States. Of the remaining three prisoners, one, Gerardo Hernandez, has a double life sentence.
The government of Raul Castro has repeatedly offered to begin negotiations with the Obama administration on a possible exchange of their agents for Gross, imprisoned since 2009 for endangering Cuban national security. Thus far the US has refused to link the two cases.
On Saturday, the Obama administration announced the release of a soldier detained five years ago by the Taliban. He was reportedly the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan. In return, Washington extradited five of its hapless Guantanamo prisoners to Qatar.
“This latest development” said González, “is proof that the only thing missing is the political will from Obama to resolve this situation,” after the release of the soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.
“My question is why not?” Gonzalez insisted in a press conference at the International Press Center of the Cuban Foreign Ministry.
“I’m optimistic,” he said of possible negotiations between Washington and Havana. At the same time, Gonzalez denied knowing about possible approaches. “I have no knowledge (of possible talks),” he said.
Fernando Gonzalez returned in February of this year to Cuba after serving his sentence in the United States. Another Cuban Five member, Rene Gonzalez, returned to Cuba in May 2013.
The case of the Cuban Five, considered by many as national heroes at home, is one of the greatest obstacles to improving the difficult relations between Washington and Havana. Cuba promotes frequent international campaigns demanding their release. A new 5-day push to influence the White House to release the Cubans begins later this week, including a march to the White House on Saturday, June 7.
Alan Gross, 65, was arrested in December 2009 in Havana for smuggling illegal telecommunications equipment into Cuba and related activities. A court sentenced him to 15 years in prison on charges of encouraging “acts against the integrity” of the state.
Gross, a well paid employee of Development Alternatives Inc., a USAID contractor, denied the charges and said that the equipment was only designed to facilitate Internet access to the Jewish community in Cuba.