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Richardson to Leave Cuba Without Release of Jailed American

Jenny Chen |
September 13, 2011 | 5:13 p.m. PDT

Associate News Editor


Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson attempted to release an imprisoned American from Cuba, but to no avail.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson attempted to release an imprisoned American from Cuba, but to no avail.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said on Tuesday he would be leaving Cuba Wednesday morning after an unsuccessful attempt to release jailed American Alan Gross. 

Richardson spoke to media in Havana on Tuesday, saying he was “disappointed and perplexed” that he had been unable to secure Gross’ release, let alone meet with him in person. 

“I have been here a week and tried through all means – with religious institutions, diplomats from other countries, all kinds of efforts – and I see that this isn’t going to change,” Richardson told reporters, according to The Washington Post

Richardson previously said he’d remain in Cuba until he met with Gross or President Raul Castro, but changed his mind after fruitless attempts at making progress. 

A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson said his negative experience altered his feelings toward the nation. Although he spoke affectionately toward Cuba, he said he wasn’t sure if he’d return. 

“My conclusion is that maybe the Cuban government has decided that it does not want better relations with the United States,” Richardson said. “Maybe that’s the message they send to a friend, maybe now an ex-friend.”

Last week, it was reported that Richardson was invited by the Cuban government to discuss Gross’ release. Richardson said he was told he couldn’t even make the “humanitarian gesture of visiting” Gross in the hospital. 

Gross is a Maryland native who was jailed in December 2009 on charges that he was bringing communication and satellite equipment illegally into the nation while on a democracy building program. 

Sentenced to 15 years in prison, Gross was accused of connecting dissidents to the Internet. Gross insisted he was helping a small Jewish community gain internet access. 

His family is seeking the 62-year-old’s release based on humanitarian grounds. His health has suffered and visitors say he has lost about 100 pounds. His mother and daughter both have cancer. 

Cuba’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal last month for Gross to return to the U.S. Former President Jimmy Carter also visited Cuba this year to work on Gross’ release but to no avail. 

Gross’ family hopes that he will be released in tiem for the Jewish Holy Days this month. The U.S. and Cuba do not have formal diplomatic relations, but this could spark new conversation between the two nations. 

The U.S. has held five Cuban prisoners - known as the “Cuban Five” - since 1998 on spying charges. Cuba’s government has pushed for a humanitarian release of them; neither the U.S. nor Cuba has suggested a swap of Gross for the Cubans. 

One Cuban, Rene Gonzalez, will be freed on October 7 after 13 years in prison, but U.S. prosecutors say he will serve an additional three years probation in the U.S. 

Reach reporter Jenny Chen here.
Follow reporter Jenny Chen on Twitter.

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