HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has proposed talks with the United States about resolving the case of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, but has received no response, indicating a lack of interest by Washington, a top Cuban diplomat said on Monday.
Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal said at a press conference that Cuba had proposed discussions “as a first step for the development of a process ... toward finding a solution to the case of Mr. Alan Gross.”
Gross, 63, has been jailed since December 2009 and is serving a 15-year sentence for illegally setting up Internet networks in Cuba under a U.S. program that promotes political change on the communist island.
The Cuban government views the program as subversive.
Gross’ imprisonment put the brakes on efforts by President Barack Obama to improve long-hostile relations between the two countries just 90 miles apart. Gross’ wife said last week she feared for her husband’s life because his health is deteriorating. Cuba denied that.
Cuban officials have said before that they would be open to talks about Gross, but this was the first time known that they have said they had proposed them.
“I want to ratify today that up to this moment we have not received a response from the government of the United States,” said Vidal, who is the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s director of North American relations.
“We have only heard some public declarations they made to the press in which the government of the United States has said that it has nothing to talk about nor anything to negotiate with the government of Cuba over this issue,” Vidal said.
“Therefore, it is clear that it is not Cuba, but the United States that is not showing interest in this case.”
She gave no details of Cuba’s proposal, but she spoke at an event concerning the “Cuban Five” - Cuban agents jailed or paroled in the United States on spying charges.
Cuban officials have hinted that a swap of Gross for the five agents, who received lengthy sentences in a 2001 trial in Miami, would resolve the case. The U.S. has insisted such a deal is out of the question.
U.S. officials said last year they had suggested a swap of Gross for one agent, Rene Gonzalez, who is out on parole in Florida, but Cuba turned it down.
Cuba feels the five agents were unjustly convicted and made their freedom a national cause, referring to them as the “Five Heroes.”
At Monday’s event in the Cuban capital, U.S. lawyers for the five took part in a video conference from Washington to discuss their latest attempt to appeal the case, which includes charges that the U.S. government paid journalists during the trial and tainted news coverage.
Editing by Kevin Gray and Christopher Wilson