U.S. lawmakers in Cuba to see Raul Castro, jailed contractor Gross

HAVANA Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:36pm EST

Cuba's President Raul Castro waves to the media before an official dinner at La Moneda Presidential Palace during the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Santiago, January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Andres Stapff

Cuba's President Raul Castro waves to the media before an official dinner at La Moneda Presidential Palace during the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Santiago, January 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andres Stapff

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HAVANA (Reuters) - A seven-member delegation of U.S. lawmakers arrived in Cuba on Monday in the latest effort to move forward political relations that have been at a standstill since U.S. government contractor Alan Gross was imprisoned there in 2009.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who saw Gross and met with Cuban President Raul Castro and other high-ranking officials a year ago, is leading the group of five senators and two members of the House of Representatives on a three-day visit to communist Cuba.

Despite the stalemate, more people traveled between the two countries in 2012, cash remittances sent to the island also increased, as did food-for-cash sales under a 2000 amendment to the U.S. trade embargo.

Between 450,000 and 500,000 Cuban Americans and Americans visited Cuba, according to tourism industry sources, and food sales increased by $100 million to $457 million, making the United States one of Cuba's top 10 trading partners and second provider of tourists after Canada.

"Every one of us has an interest in Cuba," Leahy, of Vermont, said upon arrival.

"We all want to see relations improve and both sides take steps in that direction," he said.

Leahy said the delegation would like to take Gross with them when it leaves for Haiti on Wednesday, but doubted that was possible.

"There are obvious problems between our two countries, but we are not here to negotiate. We are here to listen and then go back home and talk about what we see," he said.

The lawmakers, all Democrats except for Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, include congressman Chris Van Hollen who represents Gross's district in Maryland, Senators Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

Members of the group said they planned to meet with Gross, parliament president Ricardo Alarcon, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and perhaps Raul Castro.

They will also visit famed U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway's estate on the outskirts of Havana and meet with members of the diplomatic corps.

KERRY HAD DISCUSSED GROSS CASE

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, when he was a senator from Massachusetts, reportedly met with Rodriguez, the Cuban foreign minister, in New York in 2010 to discuss the Gross case, according to Foreign Affairs magazine. Former President James Carter also met with Raul Castro in Havana in 2011.

Delegation members said they were also interested in reforms in Cuba.

President Castro has lifted most travel restrictions and freed Cubans to buy and sell homes and cars over the past year, even as he accelerates efforts to reform the Soviet-style economy in a more market-friendly direction.

The Obama administration has said relations will not improve while Gross remains in custody. In addition, under the 1996 'Helms-Burton' law, sanctions cannot be lifted until Cuba's one-party communist political system is changed, a demand rejected by the Cuban government.

Gross, 63, was arrested in Havana in December 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for installing Internet networks under a secretive U.S. program the Cuban government considers subversive.

The case put the brakes on a brief warming in long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations during the first 11 months of President Barack Obama's first term in office.

Cuba has linked Gross' fate to that of five agents imprisoned in the late 1990s for infiltrating Miami exile organizations and U.S. military bases.

The agents, known as the Cuban Five, were sentenced to long terms ranging from 15 years to life and are considered heroes in Cuba.

(This story has been corrected to say Senator Stabenow is from Michigan, not Missouri, in ninth paragraph)

(Editing by David Adams and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (6)
majkmushrm wrote:
This is so stupid and arrogant. This Gross person was in Cuba deliberately doing things to subvert the Cuban government. We caught 4 Cubans subverting things here in the US and we threw them in jail. Why would anyone think that the Cuban government would react any differently?

We pass a law that says that unless Cuba completely transforms its government so that we like it, we will continue to embargo it. If some country demanded that we change our government to satisfy them, I know what my reaction would be. Why would anyone think that Cuba’s reaction would be any different?

Fools.

Feb 18, 2013 6:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Just goes to show how distant any government is from the population. It is the US government alone, and not its citizens, who has a problem with Cuba. It’s about time we threw all the politicians in an arena and let them fight it out amongst themselves and leave us all alone. The embargo on Cuba is ridiculous. So what if they are communist. So is China, but we wouldn’t dare play that game with them, would we?

Feb 18, 2013 9:34pm EST  --  Report as abuse
traffikator wrote:
No retreat no surrender. You have been living with this gross US travesty for more than a lifetime, do not give up the struggle now. The US should change the 1966 law. And under no circumstances should Gross be released. He was breaking Laws of Cuba and should never see the light of day again. People please read about the Republican passed 1996 ‘Helms-Burton Law. US always tries to circumvent the Laws of other nations even to the point of making Laws here. They should lift the stupid embargo! Only the people of Cuba are suffering as a direct result of US involvement. And they still have a Cuba base that the Cubans do not want and they won’t leave that island. What if the Cubans declared war on the “occupiers”? This nonsense trying to force other nations into colying has got to stop! They cannot force the Teabaggers to accept this black President and work with him, yet they they expect to force other nations to do as we say? the nerve.

Feb 18, 2013 9:46pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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